In 2009 and 2010, President Obama persuaded Congress to dedicate $10.1 billion to high-speed rail projects around the country.

Millions of taxpayer dollars poured in from all over to supplement this fool’s errand.

  • Amtrak received $804 million for the Northeast Corridor.
  • The Department of Transportation added at least $1.4 billion in other federal funds, including funds from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.
  • State governments, mainly California, added more than $7 billion in matching funds. Outside of California, the funds were not expected to produce true high-speed trains but were expected to increase speeds and frequencies of service, leading to more riders.

Randal O’Toole, senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in transportation and land use policy, describes the results in his detailed study, “The High-Speed Rail Money Sink.”

“Ten years and nearly $20 billion later, almost nothing has been accomplished. One corridor saw speeds increase by half a mile per hour and frequencies increase from two to four trains per day. A couple other corridors saw speeds increase by 1–3 mph and service extended to two small towns in Maine. Overall, the nation has little to show for more than $19 billion in federal and state spending.

“This egregious waste of taxpayer dollars has little to do with improving rail service, which is a hopelessly obsolete technology,” said Jim Tobin, economist and president of the Taxpayer Education Foundation (TEF). “The real goal is to pay-off the labor unions supporting the Washington spenders, and to help Democrat candidates win elections.”

“O’Toole describes such a situation in his study.”

Many people wonder why California started building high-speed rail in the Central Valley, which has the fewest people along the route. The answer goes back to 2010, when the Obama administration gave California a high-speed rail grant. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) was running a tough re-election campaign, so Obama required that funds granted to California be spent in or near Costa’s district and allowed Costa to announce the grant instead of the secretary of transportation, who usually makes such announcements. Costa won by only 3,000 votes, so the grant may have made the difference to his campaign.


Cato Institute Policy Analysis, April 20, 2021 | Number 915

The High-Speed Rail Money Sink by Randal O’Toole

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