Reassessment of Plans for High-Speed Rail Continues

High-speed rail continues to be a topic of debate in several regions of the country. Here’s a rundown of some of the developments in recent days.

  • A new study released last week by America 2050 identifies the high-speed rail corridors with the greatest potential to attract ridership in each of the nation’s megaregions which contain 70 percent of the country’s population and jobs. The study, entitled “High-Speed Rail in America,” recommends that the federal government adopt a more systematic approach to evaluating future investment in high-speed rail. As I blogged back in November, that’s likely to happen with the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee now under the chairmanship of Florida’s John Mica.
  • Florida: Mica met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott Monday to talk about Florida’s transportation projects, including a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando. Afterwards he told reporters he and the governor see eye to eye that no more taxpayer dollars should go to the project. Mica said it’s time for the private sector to “step up to the plate,” Sunshine State News reported. The Florida Times-Unionhad more on Mica’s views on the project Wednesday. The Palm Beach Post reported Monday on the efforts by Florida labor and business interests to mobilize in support of high-speed rail. The St. Petersburg Times has more on that as well. The newspaper also reported on last week’s state Senate hearing in Tallahassee at which Florida Rail Enterprise Executive Director Kevin Thibault told lawmakers that seven business consortia from around the world have shown interest in bidding on Florida’s high-speed rail project and all of them know they would have to absorb any construction cost overruns or operating losses if ridership is low. A recent Reason Foundation study had said that the Tampa-to-Orlando line could cost $3 billion more than expected and Florida taxpayers could get stuck with the bill.
  • California: A Washington Post editorial last week called on policymakers to “Hit the brakes on California’s high-speed rail experiment” following the release of a report by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group that said the project suffers from an undefined business model, the lack of a clear financial plan, a lack of attention to risk management and risk allocation, questions about ridership projections and concerns about right-of-way availability. “Given that California’s system has attracted zero private capital and has been unable to guarantee any source – governmental or private – for almost half the cost of completion, the obvious risk is that the federal taxpayer will be on the hook for billions of dollars worth of railroad track that may never serve its intended high-speed purpose,” the editorial read. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was quick to respond in both a letter to the editor and on his official blog. “If President Dwight D. Eisenhower had waited until he had all the cash on hand, all the lines drawn on a map and all the naysayers on board America wouldn’t have an interstate highway system,” the Secretary writes. “We stand at a similar crossroads today when it comes to high-speed rail.” Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Blog reported that last week Japan’s Ambassador to the United States told a high-speed rail seminar in Los Angeles that he believes Japan will pay up to half the cost of building California’s high-speed rail.
  • Midwest: The Infrastructurist blog and Streetsblog reported recently on what the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin have planned for transportation now that they’ve decided to kill high-speed rail lines in their states. Streetsblog and Transportation for America also reported recently that Iowa could join Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for passenger rail.