The Recession

High-Speed Rail: More "Mickey Mouse" Stimulus Spending

| by Heritage Foundation

By Conn Carroll

The failures of President Barack Obama’s $862 billion stimulus are legend, but the $8 billion the Obama administration will waste on high-speed rail is particularly galling. The New York Times reports today:

The drive from Orlando to Tampa takes only 90 minutes or so. Despite the short distance, the Obama administration awarded Florida $1.25 billion in stimulus money to link the cities with a fast train to help kick off its efforts to bring high-speed rail service to the United States.

Proponents of high-speed rail worry that the new line, which is scheduled to be up and running in 2015, might hurt rather than help their cause, if it comes to be seen as little more than an expensive way to whisk tourists from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World, which is slated to get its own stop.

Heritage fellow Ron Utt has written extensively on why high-speed rail is such a financial disaster:

In 2008, Amtrak’s inspector general published an analysis of government subsidies to passenger rail in Europe and compared them to Amtrak’s subsidies. One purpose of the review was to address the contention that passenger rail in other countries, especially HSR, operates at a profit (i.e., without subsidies). For 1995-2006, the study found that the governments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, and Austria spent “a combined total of $42 billion annually on their national passenger railroads.” The $42 billion that these six countries, which have a combined population of 269 million, spent on just passenger rail in 2006is roughly proportionate to the $54.8 billion (most of which was funded by user fees) that the government of the United States (population of 309 million) spent on all forms of transportation, including highways, rail, aviation, water transport, and mass transit.

To put the European commitment to passenger rail in perspective, rail ridership (high speed, conventional intercity, and metropolitan commuter rail) in these six countries accounted for just 7.9 percent of all surface transportation modes on a per passenger, per billion kilometer basis. This suggests that these countries received a poor return on their money given that more than 90 percent of passengers in these countries chose other travel modes– mostly auto–despite the subsidies.

In addition to the $8 billion the Obama administration is wasting on high speed rail, Rep. James Oberstar (D-WI) wants to blow another $50 billion on HSR over the next five years. That’s a lot of trips to the Enchanted Kingdom on the taxpayers dime.