Taking Different Routes

to the same place(s), when you could have taken the train. Sweet baby Joshua… how our perceptions of liberty have us by the short hairs. Is it just that we think we’re too good to be sitting in a line going in the same direction as other people? Seem too egalitarian or Marxist for you? Come on, people! Train travel is the kind of sexy everybody understands. And… you were going there anyway.

Really good rebuttal of typical, widely-disseminated HSR critiques, here. You know, the ones with casually construed cost-benefit analyses that say they will need so much annual public support they will never work so let’s cut the crap and not waste any of the serious consideration we might instead devote to new fighter jets and switchgrass ethanol. And lo, as turnips mold in the field where they lay, High Speed Rail actually pays for itself over time.

That may even to have been Glaeser’s [NYT Economix blog] intent in writing the series. The problem is that–through a sorry mix of omission, oversimplification, distortion, and deficiency–his calculations bear no relation to the effects he is claiming to consider. So it’s important to show that “the numbers” do not at all undermine the viability of HSR in the US, even outside the northeast and California. In fact, they tend to support it.

By populating his model with a better set of assumptions, we hope to show how badly the economist missed the mark even on his handpicked example of an HSR link between Houston and Dallas. In reality, a well-designed high speed intercity rail project between the two largest cities in Lone Star State would likely produce a net economic benefit–not at all the white elephant Glaeser suggests. In this more comprehensive model that takes into account trivialities like regional population growth and a reality-based route, the annual benefits total $840 million compared with construction and maintenance costs of $810 million. Which is to say, our numbers show that HSR pays for itself rather handily.


So instead of deeply flawed attempts to project ridership based on the Northeast, we should be focusing on high-speed rail’s noted ability to take substantial market share away from the airlines and even from automobile commuters. Evidence from overseas to this effect is plentiful, though Glaeser doesn’t even mention it. In France, for instance, the 200 mph TGV Est line between Paris (metro population 11 million) and Strasbourg (600,000) carried 11 million passengers in its first year of operation. Rail now commands 70% of total travel market share, including automobiles, versus 30% before the line opened. Today, roughly 10 million people a year travel between Dallas and Houston either by plane or by car.

Go read the whole thing. via Yglesias. On a related note, I guess de-regulation of the airline industry is taking the long way around, leading us into the waiting arms of HSR as airports/airlines undermine their business model by inviting us to despise and increasingly avoid them. Neat trick. Maybe in 2024, we re-name the first non-stop intercontinental HSR route connecting Charlotte and Seattle after Ronald Reagan, at a sparkling, Gipper-themed gala at its new connection point in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The 4R’s, indeed.