Economist Says Only The Ignorant Want High-Speed Rail

High Speed Rail, regardless of how glamorous it appears to be, is nothing but a waste of money in the U.S., claims Robert Samuelson. If states want HSR, let them build it themselves without federal subsidy, he concludes as there is no national gain.

Samuelson doesn't have a kind word for high speed rail, other than suggesting it might work well in Europe and Asia because of their higher population densities.

"Intercity trains-at whatever speed-target such a small part of total travel that the effects on reduced oil use, traffic congestion, and greenhouse gases must be microscopic. We are prisoners of economic geography. Suburbanization after World War II made most rail travel impractical.

Obama calls high-speed rail essential "infrastructure" when it's actually old-fashioned "pork barrel." The interesting question is why it retains its intellectual respectability. The answer, it seems, is willful ignorance.

High-speed rail would subsidize a tiny group of travelers and do little else. If states want these projects, they should pay all costs because there are no meaningful national gains."

[Robert J. Samuelson "has been writing a bi-weekly column for Newsweek since 1984. The column concentrates on the economy and socio-economic and political issues. His Newsweek column is reprinted on the op-ed page of the Washington Post"].

Thanks to Loren Spiekerman

Full Story: High-Speed Pork - Why fast trains are a waste of money



Actually a journalist

Robert Samuelson is a journalist who focuses on business issues, but I don't think that makes him an economist. Paul Samuelson was a famous economist.

Irvin Dawid's picture

Thanks - I get those Samuelsons confused!

Here's the first response to Samuelson (the journalist) on HSR Pork I've seen. To refute his point that 'low density' U.S. is not suitable for HSR, Chikodi Chima writes (in AltTransport: High Speed Rail is Not Pork as Usual) "So because people don’t live in dense cities like they used to, high speed rail simply doesn’t make sense. What Samuelson and other critics of high speed rail fail to mention is the role that central cities play in the economies which support the suburbs which now house the majority of our population.

A recent report by CEOs for Cities [PDF] offers a contrasting view of our geographic incarceration, and also our dependence on cities, no matter where we live...."

Chima is quick to pick up on these economic criticisms of HSR. Check out Planetizen: High Speed Rail Is Not Primarily About Economics.

Finally, Ken Orski picked up on the Samuelson piece as well - suggesting it may have much influence on what transpires under a Republican Congress: High-Speed Rail Debate Refuses to Quiet Down

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

i have always wondered why

i have always wondered why people wanted a high speed train.I mean just why?And i am so glad that the author here says the same.that makes me assure myself that i am not alone.

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