High-Speed Rail in the USA: Why Hasn’t it Flourished?

Over two years ago, I wrote a post about high-speed rail in the USA. It was right around the time that the USA had announced that it was going to be improving its high-speed rail system. As someone who enjoys public transportation, it was pretty exciting to see that one would be able to travel from Montreal to San Diego by high-speed train!

While I wrote it over two years ago, it is consistently one of my most popular posts. It’s probably not fair to draw too strong a conclusion from that, but it’s reasonable to think that people are at least interested in high-speed rail in the USA. On that note, I came across a post on Mashable that offers a disheartening update to high-speed rail in the USA:

The not so good news is, if you live in the United States, you’re out of luck when it comes to HSR, thus far. High-speed rail in the U.S. is mired, for the most part, in opposing views about what’s best for the country’s travel infrastructure — and how we should pay for it.

As is the case with many ‘public goods,’ there’s always the question of who’s going to foot the bill. It seems to me, the USA, more than other countries, have a harder time coming to an agreement on who should pay for public transportation. As I mentioned in my post two years ago, most folks say that Europe is much smaller than the USA and that’s why it has public transportation galore and the USA doesn’t — incorrect. Would you believe that Europe actually has more land area than the USA? You should (Europe: 10,180,000 km²; USA: 9,826,675 km²).

After debunking the land area myth, the next logical progression is population. That is, are there enough people that even need to be transported by high-speed rail. Europe’s population is over 700 million, more than double the USA’s population. Of all the points against high-speed rail, this one seems like it’d be the most compelling. With that being said, it still stands to reason that there could be high-speed rail between the large urban centers, right?

At the beginning of the month, Business Insider created a map that showed that half of the United States lives in 146 counties. That is, half of the USA’s population is accounted for in these counties. In looking at the map, you’ll recognize many of the areas. So then why can’t the USA start its high-speed rail adventure by building between some of these urban areas? Well, we’re back at the political issue of who pays for it. Building a high-speed rail line between Chicago and Detroit crosses state lines, so who pays for it: Illinois or Michigan? And this, of course, reinvokes ideological differences.

Like the Mashable article foreshadows, the outlook for those who would find joy in the proliferation of high-speed rail doesn’t look good.

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One response to “High-Speed Rail in the USA: Why Hasn’t it Flourished?

  1. Pingback: How Americans Get to Work: Is It Time to Change Incentives? | Jeremiah Stanghini

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