High speed rail a losing bet for Arizona


by Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute

The Arizona Department of Transportation has released a draft report on rail transportation, laying out its plans for high speed rail in Arizona. While the department’s plan is a comprehensive document covering all types of rail-based transportation, the sections on high speed rail appear to get the most attention, complete with schematics and maps. The evidence, though, points to high speed rail as a boondoggle waiting to happen.

In 2008, Californians narrowly approved a $10 billion bond issue to help build high-speed rail, with spur lines, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Costs have already risen 10 percent, even with spur lines eliminated, and the promised $55 ticket price has almost doubled to $105.

Cost overruns and inadequate ridership are all-too-predictable when it comes to passenger rail projects. A project of the Pew Charitable Trusts has estimated Amtrak is subsidized to the tune of $32 per passenger ticket. A study by the Reason Foundation in 2008 predicted much higher costs for the California rail project when it is finished and cited overly optimistic ridership estimates by proponents of the project.

Passenger rail seems to be especially vulnerable to the trifecta of special interest advocacy groups, politicians willing to bet federal taxpayer money, and hungry contractors ready to take that money. Meanwhile, our neglected road system continues to do the lion’s share of the transportation work. People demonstrate daily they are willing to pay for roads with tolls and taxes on fuel, tires, trucks, and autos. Passenger rail, on the other hand, needs subsidies in its every incarnation. Arizona would be wise to let this train pass.

Dr. Bryon Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.

Learn More:

The San Diego Union-Tribune: California high-speed rail: The next stop is bankruptcy

National Public Radio’s Marketplace: Taxes picking up tab for Amtrak losses

Arizona Department of Transportation: State Rail Plan March 2011

Cato Institute: High Speed Rail is Not “Interstate 2.0”


Comments

  1. Oberserve says:

    I mean even if you did “have to have” rail, $0 should have been put into 16mph light rail that all it did was replace existing bus routes (which are configurable to actual traffic and use patterns) and all of the money (if it HAD to be spent) should have been put into commuter heavy rail.

    Existing heavy rail lines run parallel to the light rail lines 80% or more of the entire existing and planned light rail track.

    Additionaly, heavy rail is linked to a nationwide network.

    I asked Valley Metro this question back in 2003/2004. Their answer is that heavy commuter rail was impossible. But, they accomplished it in Chicago. If you can do it in Chicago, then you can certainly do it in Phoenix.

    I don’t believe in ANY taxpayer subsized rail (or taxpayer subsidized ANYTHING for that matter), but if it were between light and heavy rail, you have to pick the heavy rail. Light rail was a 100% waste of money, a contract-giveaway to friends conducted by local elected officials and the corporation commission with kickbacks into political campaigns.

    I don’t think light rail iss anything other than RICO suits just waiting to happen.

  2. If you build it, they will come.

    If we wanted Amtrak to be more effective and cheaper, then they need their own dedicated lines. Right now they run on freight lines and are forced to give freight trains the right of way. Look at Amtrak in the Northeast where it has it’s own lines. It’s used by millions, efficient, and a hell of a lot better than more freeways.

    • Oberserve says:

      They built light rail and “they” did come.

      “They” being:

      1) rich people from the central corridor going to ball games
      2) some university students
      3) poor folk who were riding the bus lines running on the same routes already

      In other words, the system was doomed from the start.

      At least with heavy rail, even though massive subsidies would be required, it wouldn’t be a total dead loss as light rail was.

      • I would hardly call a successful transportation project a system that was “doomed from the start.”

        I agree a heavy rail system would have been better, though. Just try and find me some conservatives that would have actually supported such a project.

    • The idea is not how efficient we can make Amtrak or the cost of the ride but the speed to get from point A to point B. using railroad stations thru the city without having to go to the airport. The is a real game changer.

  3. “If you can do it in Chicago, then you can certainly do it in Phoenix.”

    So, I should be able to find good deep-dish here too?

    • Oberserve says:

      The Pizzeria Unos that used to be here closed. It’s Ben Bernanke (bonds) and the AZ Corp Comission’s and AZ Commerce “Authority’s” fault (more bonds).

      As long as government is soaking up investment dollars, the private sector ISNT.

      So, there you have it! :P

  4. Jay Tulock says:

    Wow, how many minutes did it take you to write that in depth thesis?

    Jay Tulock, Vacaville, CA

  5. ………………………………

    Tim says:
    April 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm
    If you build it, they will come.

    If we wanted Amtrak to be more effective and cheaper, then they need their own dedicated lines. Right now they run on freight lines and are forced to give freight trains the right of way. Look at Amtrak in the Northeast where it has it’s own lines. It’s used by millions, efficient, and a hell of a lot better than more freeways.
    ……………………………..

    You haven’t actually ridden on “Amtrak in the Northeast…used by millions and a hell of a lot better than more freeways” because that wouldn’t be how you’d truthfully describe it after enduring a few Boston-NYC “Northeast Amtrak efficiencies.”

    • I actually had to ride Amtrak in the Northeast once because my Delta flight was rescheduled to be on-time after it was delayed by 2 hours. Because it goes city center to city center, it came out about even with flying (and this was the slow train).

  6. James Rusk says:

    If Arizona refuses to join the rest of the world (see what China is doing, HSR covering the whole country), then they will further isolate themselves from the needed efficient connections with other centers of population and business.

    I live in Southern CA, and as soon as we have HSR, which is now planned between Sacramento,
    San Francisco, L.A., San Diego, and Las Vegas, I will be traveling to those places several times more per year than I do now, with no choice but long automobile drives or expensive, hassled, uncomfortable, and usually poorly connected to the cities air flights. With the projected 2 1/2 HSR trip from L.A. to S.F., that would be pure pleasure, or an even shorter trip to Vegas, I’ll be going at least 4 times per year instead of once. Phoenix and Tucson would also be attractive destinations. As would Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

  7. …………………………………….
    James Rusk says:
    April 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm
    If Arizona refuses to join the rest of the world (see what China is doing,
    …………………………….

    China is doing A LOT of things that are totally screwed up. What makes their rail system any different from their usual central-planning mess-ups? They built schools, too , which collapsed on top of an entire generation of One Child kids, irrevocably destroying the family lines of thousands of families, they dump unwanted baby girls into orphanages, they are sloppy with their pharmaceutical production, which killed a number of OTHER One Child kids, defective paint production, food tainted scandals…they invaded Tibet, took that over and invaded India and stole a chunk of Indian territory, prop up the murderous Mynamar regime, totally back the North Korean nightmare and fund the Nepal commmunist insurgency.

    WHy would anyone want to COPY ANYTHING they do while they behave as they do? They even had their little girl gymnasts LIE about their ages. WHo is to believe whatever glowing reports they put out about their super-dee-do transit system, which ah, stranded about a million people last year when it broke down.

  8. How many super-dee-do rail people have looked at a topography map of Arizona recently … or ever?
    The existing highways are where they are for a reason.

  9. I find it rather suspicious that ADOT has a draft plan out already while at the same time they are conducting a rather slanted survey at:
    http://www.whatmovesyouarizona.gov/your_home.asp

    Looks to me like ADOT is fast tracking this.

  10. Amtrak is profitable in the Northeast. When you connect densely populated areas, trains become a time-saving way to move between downtown activity centers. A high-speed ticket from DC to Philadelphia averages $120, but I save money by taking the slow train back when time isn’t of the essence. The overall cost comes in below flying or driving, especially when you take into account tolls. Since the roads are Arizona are free, that’s a strike against rail, but with gas pushing $4 a gallon, driving is becoming a costly annoyance wherever you go.

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