Counterpoint: High-Speed Rail Can Be a Good Investment - Post 4: Density, Cost

Last Monday, Robert J. Samuelson published an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting the high-speed rail is nothing but pork.  At one point he says:

"Only in places with greater population densities, such as Europe and Asia, is high-speed rail potentially attractive. Even there, most of the existing high-speed trains don't earn 'enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs,' the Congressional Research Service report said. The major exceptions seem to be the Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon lines."

(from Wikimedia Commons)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I traveled on the AVE trains in Spain this summer.  Spain has a population density of about 210 people per square mile.  There are 12 US states with greater densities than this, as follows:
  • New Jersey            1,174
  • Rhode Island          1,008
  • Massacusetts             841
  • Connecticut               726
    • UK                 656
    • Germany         593
  • Maryland                  583
  • Delaware                  453
  • New York                414
  • Florida                      344
    • France            310
  • Ohio                         282
  • Pennsylvania             281
  • E. Coast (MA-FL)   276
  • California                  237
  • Illinois                       232
    • Spain              210
  • Hawaii                      202
Even more to the point, the whole East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida, is almost as densely populated as France, which is highly regarded for its excellent high-speed rail system.  So this oft-repeated canard that the US just isn't dense enough to accommodate high-speed rail is patently untrue.

Now the second point: "high-speed trains don't earn 'enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs."  Neither do highways.  In fact most highways earn no revenues at all.  Zero.  So what's his point?  Highways don't earn enough revenues to cover EITHER their construction or operating costs.  Virtually all transportation systems are subsidized.  So the decision is not whether a system can pay for itself--none do--but rather which systems make the most sense for long-term growth, environmental impact, competitiveness, value, flexibility, etc.  The very fact that some high-speed rail lines actually DO pay for themselves, as he points out, makes a strong argument for choosing them over highways, which never do.

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