Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Joel Kotkin, in FORBES, talks about Obama and High-Speed Rail

Forbes, like the Wall Street Journal, is no friend of high-speed rail.  Here is a paragraph taken from an article about Obama's failures in his first three and a half years as president.  Kotkin sums it up pretty well:

HSR is a part of the "smart growth" high-density, high-rise, urbanism where words like "vitality" play a big role.  The larger context is highly increasing urban density as an inherent good, but containing "bike-friendly" neighborhoods and increased "pedestrian-friendly" walkways.  Mass transit is an integral part of that "new urbanism", thereby obliging people to relinquish their cars. Transit oriented development built on "in-fill" land development surrounding new train depots become life-style altering, encouraged by government subsidized support for infrastructure development and expansion.  The results, promised to become the new Utopia, will, in fact be Dystopian; see "Blade Runner" for what such a world will be like.

Kotkin identifies the future customers for this "futuristic" train system, tourists, businessmen; that is, the affluent who already have numerous transit options.  Which is to say, that the customers for HSR will NOT be blue collar workers, lower income families, or, the vast majority of the US population that can't and won't afford the highest price train tickets available.

While there are youthful and idealistic dreamer HSR supporters who will blandly state that it really doesn't matter how much it will cost to build (After all, they  believe, it's not their money!), the rest of us are, or should be, appalled at the staggering costs of construction, extent of borrowing with interest, inflation and multi-generational amortization that will drain our meager financial resources.  Let's also throw into this inequitable equation the cost of repair, maintenance and replacement as well as subsidized operations.  HSR will require an endless full-throttle flood of funding; read "our tax dollars at work."  Boondoggle doesn't begin to describe it.


"Sadly, the one infrastructure project embraced by the administration — high speed rail — reflected trendy urbanist theory more than common sense. At very best high-speed rail would have served, at an exorbitant cost, a small cadre of tourists and businessmen now capable of getting to the same places by car, plane or Megabus. HSR’s ever rising costs have even led some leftists, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, to denounce it as “boondoggly.” As Drum sensibly put it, “We have way better uses for the dough." "

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