Skeptics say rail has bad track record

An Amtrak Acela high-speed train at South Station in Boston.

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Bill Radke: Before the president leaves Washington today, he will announce the government's plan to build new high-speed passenger rail lines. This is part of his economic stimulus package: $8 billion this year for high-speed and intercity rail. The goals are admirable -- connecting cities, creating jobs,
saving energy. So why are there so many skeptics? Here's Marketplace's John Dimsdale.


John Dimsdale: High gas prices sparked an 18 percent increase in Amtrak riders over the past two years. California voters have approved $10 billion in bonds for high-speed lines, and governors from Ohio to Missouri are asking for billions more for fast-track lines in the Midwest.

But Ross Capon, the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, says only so much can be done right now.

Ross Capon: What you're going to mainly see is incremental improvements to existing services, even though it's far more than the U.S. has ever put into this business before.

Randal O'Toole: I think it's $8 billion down the drain.

The Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole says existing high-speed rail lines in the Northeast, as well as in Europe and Japan, have yet to prove cost-effective.

O'Toole: There's not been a high-speed rail system anywhere in the world that has relieved traffic congestion on adjacent highways, because so few people use them.

The administration is said to be looking at subsidies for as many as six high-speed lines throughout the country.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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