The Cost of a Hypothetical High Speed Rail Line

Economist Edward L. Glaeser crunches the numbers on a hypothetical high speed rail line between Dallas and Houston and finds the costs prohibitive.

"I'm going to frame the discussion around an imaginary 240-mile link between Dallas and Houston, but the basic formula for direct costs and benefit is general:

Number of Riders times (Benefit per Rider minus Variable Costs per Rider) minus Fixed Costs.

I'm simplifying, but a formula needs to be simple if interested parties can seriously debate the numbers, and the only way that America is going to get to the right answer on public investments is if numbers trump rhetoric. I will plug illustrative figures into the formula, but not only am I well aware that every number here is debatable, I am hoping for just that debate."

He bases his figures on comparable costs from other rail lines from around the world, as well as estimates of interest rates on the bonds and loans required to fund the project.

Thanks to Reconnecting America

Full Story: Running the Numbers on High-Speed Trains

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The non-electrification advantages...

Many responses on the Economix blog seem to prove Prof Glaeser’s economic rationale is a trifle simplistic, if not blatantly biased.

I support high-speed passenger rail in the US, but prefer non-electrification because this reduces the overall costs about 30%, because non-electrified trains can reach a suitably-high speed of 135-150mph, because most rail routes are rural where the environmental benefits of electrification are moot, and because electrific operation through inner-city segments with diesel/electric locomotives can be achieved via a raised pantograph.

The main cost of high-speed rail is track upgrades, welded rail, grade separation, separated double-track, etc. Electrification can be added later when ridership justifies the cost. Non-electrified trainsets can be passed on hand-me-down style to new high-speed rail projects.

Non-electrification should be a cost saving measure Prof Glaeser can understand. You’d be surprised how many high-speed rail fans absolutely cannot wrap their heads around the idea. Bonk Bonk…

His follow-up articles shows he is NOT basing ...

... his figures on comparable costs from other rail lines from around the world. His justification for the hypothetical Houston/Dallas line is reference to two rail corridors planned for 110mph or less, which according to his own cost source would be a mid-range capital cost of $8m/mile rather than $40m/mile ... so his capital costs are inflated somewhere around fivefold.

So it costs a lot to build high speed rail, huh?

Mass transit spending has economic and social benefits that are vastly larger than the initial investment, just as spending on education, libraries, parks and police and fire departments does.

One would have to be either a fool or a shill for the oil and auto industries to neglect this particular variable in studying the costs of building high speed rail.

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