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Benefits, Feasibility of High-Speed Rail Varies

By Ed O'Keefe

Remember The Eye's recent "Ask Your Government" report on the future of American high-speed rail? Remember how it discussed the potential drawbacks to such ambitious efforts? A new report by the Government Accountability Office confirms those concerns, noting that expected costs and benefits differ greatly between densely populated regions and areas eager for rail development, but not necessarily able to support it.

"Research on rider and cost forecasts has shown they are often optimistic," the report states, adding that it's also difficult to forecast potential commercial interest in rail development.

Highlighting a point raised by high speed rail plan skeptics during The Eye's original reporting on the topic the GAO notes that "sustaining public and political support for project development will also be a challenge."

Uncertainties regarding rider forecasts and cost estimates can undermine confidence in whether projects will actually produce claimed benefits. Project sponsors must also sustain political support over several electoral cycles and coordinate project decisions among numerous stakeholders in different jurisdictions, typically without the benefit of an established institutional framework.

The economic stimulus package does provide $8 billion to fund high speed rail projects across the country, but experts say "That money will not be enough to pay for a single bullet train."

This means potential passengers will have to keep waiting for the new train, no matter its speed.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 20, 2009; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  Ask Your Government, Oversight  
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If the towns of Clinton and Weatherford OK had to pay the cost of the Interstate 40 highway running past them, they probably could not afford it. The economic benefit to all the people who drive by those towns is enough that the State and Federal government pays for the highway anyway. High speed rail should be thought of in the same way. The benefit is not just to those in the remote towns served, it trickles down to a much greater number of people.

Posted by: wrives | March 20, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Geeze! "Potentially. Not necessarily. Uncertainties ??? "

The only think that is 'certain' : O'Keefe is scraping at the bottom of the cesspool looking for 'support'.
It's past time to mnove past the automobile.
In another time, O'Keefe would be arguing for horses over cars, or bare feet instead of shoes.

Next thing we'll be hearing is from O'Keefe is that everyone should be responsible for their own health insurance, and if you can't pay for it - you can die.

Posted by: stodayxx | March 20, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

If we had high speed rail service and we could have lunch in a nice dinning car, an Internet connection available, comfortable seats and a reasonable price that saves on gas and parking; hi Speed Rail Service may become successful.
Going cross country at 130 to 250 MPH on a clear day, may well be an awesome experience.
I recall traveling in slower trains years ago and having a chance to think, read, look and meet people from all walks of life.
If we eliminate the 1 hour drive to and from the airport, some of the security checks as well as develop other efficient systems of getting passengers to and from their destinations in an efficient manner; we may have a success in our hands.
Flying and deriving are our choices, because it is convenient. The moment rail travel becomes cost effective, efficient, pleasant and convenient, guess what will happen???

Posted by: JackT | March 20, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

If we had a network of high speed TGVs in America like they have in Europe I would use it rather than flying.

Posted by: blakesouthwood | March 20, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

With the immense size of the United States, it is odd that we do not have a reliable high speed rail system. This system should not be compared to travelling from New Haven to New York City, rather from New York City to Chicago or San Francisco.

Posted by: jccrandell | March 23, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Government political fear and special interests are once again rearing their ugly heads to impede the building of another critical infrastructure element for our future growth.

High speed train construction is essential for the efficient movement of people and the maintenance of our place in the world economy. It's time for us to join the nations who have recognized the importance and utility of high speed train travel.

Posted by: dsigeorge | March 23, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

time for you boys on the hill to quit resting on your laurels and listen to the people. We want high speed rail! Period, end of discussion! It doesn't have to be over night. Much akin to the Eisenhower administration's interstate system, it can be done over time. This creates jobs for decades to come. If you can vote to appropriate funds for a needless war, we can do this.

Posted by: moshermartin68 | March 23, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Remember "Casablanca? "I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here." Driving and airplanes are supported by powerful lobbies.

Posted by: samoacindy | March 27, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

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