High-Speed Rail – Pro and Con

When it comes to choosing sides on any issue, it’s always a good idea to compare arguments, whether it’s health care reform or tax cuts or high-speed rail. Often, when a comparison is made, it becomes clear that there are simply more and/or better arguments supporting one of the points of view … be it hard data or theory or historical precedent.

Take, for instance, the issue of high-speed rail. The Obama Administration has allocated something a bit over $8 billion to several states for preliminary work on high-speed rail corridors. And in 2008 the voters of California approved a $10 billion bond issue to start work on a high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. Opponents of all of these proposed projects have essentially three arguments:

1. People won’t ride it.
2. It costs too much.
3. I don’t want it in my backyard.

Those of us supporting more and better passenger trains, including high-speed rail, counter with arguments that are, to my mind, a lot more thoughtful and a lot more compelling:

1. High-speed rail will dramatically reduce the number of short-haul flights in and out of major airports.
2. High-speed rail will save energy, reduce our use of foreign oil, and cut air pollution.
3. High-speed rail is safe, reliable and provides people with an alternative to flying or driving.
4. High-speed rail projects will create jobs and boost local economies.
5. High-speed rail will redirect growth to those corridors and minimize urban sprawl.

(Of course, we could always respond to the other side’s points directly: (1) Yes, they will; (2) No it won’t; (3) Too damn bad!)