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High-speed rail travel is largely a myth, and if these routes and constructed, travelers will find them much slower than the pipe-dreams of their proponents.

Randal O’Toole, senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in transportation and land use policy, lays out several reasons why high-speed rail plans are bad ideas in his study, The High-Speed Rail Money Sink. One reason is surprising until one examines it in detail: High-speed rail is still too slow!

•Jetliners typically cruise at 500–600 mph. Takeoffs and landings are slower, resulting in only slightly lower average speeds. Additionally, “Asian and European high-speed trains gained most of their riders from conventional trains, not autos or airplanes. The U.S. doesn’t have enough conventional train riders for high-speed rail to succeed.”

•High-speed train average speeds are also a lot lower than the 220 mph or so top speeds that proponents like to proclaim. Part of the reason for the slower train speeds is that they need to slow down in places for safety reasons and for intermediate stops. Amtrak’s Acela may have a top speed of 150 mph, but between New York and Washington, its average speed with stops is barely half that, and even the one nonstop train averages only 90 mph.

•Rail advocates argue that rail downtown-to-downtown times are competitive with planes, but this is only important where there are lots of downtown jobs like New York and Washington, DC.

•The biggest factor slowing down air travel is the time required to get through airport security. Yet, security systems can be streamlined for a lot less than it would cost to build high-speed rail.

“High-speed rail is one of the worst scams foisted upon taxpayers by tax-and-spend politicians,” said Jim Tobin, economist and president of the Taxpayer Education Foundation (TEF). “Rail travel, especially between cities, is a 19th-century technology that is obsolete and a mode of transportation few people want or use.”

“So-called high-speed rail is neither high-speed nor economically feasible. It would be a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Cato Institute Policy Analysis, April 20, 2021 | Number 915
The High-Speed Rail Money Sink By Randal O’Toole

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