Don’t Count High Speed Rail Out Yet

“High Speed Rail is Dead,” Aaron Renn announced earlier this week on New Geography.

FRA regulations are a mess. The money’s been spread too thin. A couple governors torpedoed projects. And conventional speed lines of 110 mph are being sold as high speed. Those are all nails in the coffin of high speed rail, he argues.

Reports of the demise of California high speed rail have been greatly exaggerated. Image: Travelin' Local

Aaron is a dynamic and authoritative blogger at the Urbanophile. But we think his latest pronouncement is awfully hasty.

In response to the naysayers at New Geography, Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations makes a convincing argument that high speed rail is still very much alive:

High-speed rail has challenges, many correctly identified by Aaron. All of those factors are true – though some cancel out, e.g. the 110 mph pretend-HSR lines in Wisconsin and Ohio were the first on the chopping block – but California HSR marches on.

Reading California HSR Blog gives an impression that the project is controversial, but in no real risk of disappearing. While some of the money from the canceled lines went to chaff, a lot went to California, which already has enough money to build a demonstration line in the Central Valley and is already looking at leveraging other money it will get to reach either Los Angeles or the Bay Area.

Whether the project will ultimately have a useful starter line or remain a Bakersfield-Fresno-Merced shuttle depends on how much private funding it can attract, but Japan promised to fund 50% of the line, and the authority has had meetings with Spain and China. It’d be enough to do at least LA-Fresno, which is quite useful, if not as good as LA-Fresno-San Francisco.

Levy continues by noting the irony of New Geography announcing the death of high-speed rail. The website’s editor, Wendell Cox, produced a report — which has since been discredited — claiming that Florida HSR would be far more costly than anticipated. That report, despite its defects, was used by Governor Rick Scott as justification to quash the Orlando-Tampa line.

“It’s deeply troubling to go on a website and say that high-speed rail is dead when one of the reasons it’s dead is shoddy or dishonest work done by another contributor to the same website,” says Levy.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicio.us celebrates the passage of a California Senate bill mandating bicycle and transit commuter benefits. The Bike Sharing Blog explains “the bicycle dividend,” or the phenomenon where bicycling improvements encourage new entrants, leading to further improvements. And the commercialization of bicycling reaches new heights, as the Reno Rambler shares a bizarre Armani Exchange commercial that intertwines sex appeal and bicycling.