The Cause

The Benefits

The Organization

High-Speed Rail: Experience the Benefits

The Facts

For those who pay attention to the news, high speed rail sometimes receives negative reviews. Read on to learn which concerns have merit and which cannot stand up to scrutiny.

Please note: Only the concerns which apply to the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative's (MWRRI) proposed 110 mph network have been addressed. This distinction is important. The INHSRA supports the MWRRI plan because this plan addresses some of the criticisms directed at the 220 mph high speed rail options. Click here to learn the difference between forms of high speed rail and why the INHSRA endorses a 110 mph version.

The Objection: Auto travel is more cost-effective and more convenient.

Auto travel often seems more cost effective when only the price of fuel is considered. A better cost comparison includes the cost of owning and operating a car (purchase, financing, insurance, license, fuel, and maintenance) and the cost to society to build and maintain the roadway system. That comprehensive automobile travel cost picture must be compared to the comprehensive cost of a passenger rail option.

Some costs are more difficult to quantify - such as the cost of congestion and delays, and the cost of injuries and deaths due to accidents. Even more challenging to estimate is the value and cost of quality of life comparisons between travel modes - such things as productivity during travel, ambiance, access to amenities, comfort and relaxation.

The Objection: Bus travel is an already-existing, efficient, cost-effective alternative mode of transit.

High speed rail is part of a system and is intended for intercity transportation. High speed rail is intended to supplement other modes of transportation, including bus transportation, on those routes where the overall benefits of high speed rail outweigh the overall benefits of other modes. On those corridors where high speed rail would be the best option, trains would be more efficient, make better use of existing rights-of-way, allow for more spacious and versatile seating, and provide opportunity to engage in a wider variety of activities while riding.

The Objection: Property values will be negatively affected by having train tracks nearby due to the noise and pollution.

The proposed rail routes use mostly existing tracks and rights-of-way, and thus would have little or no negative effect on values of nearby properties, since they are already affected by the passage of freight trains.

There are many examples of increased property values around transit stations. In fact, the convenience of high speed rail and the related transit-oriented development are likely to increase property values. Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, in a speech at the 2011 INHSRA Golden Spike Seminar, informed listeners that "the promise of improved [high speed passenger rail] service has brought more than $200 million in private investment" to the downtown area of Normal, Illinois.

The Objection: Rail lines don't make economic sense. They will be expensive to build AND expensive to maintain, and that cost will fall to taxpayers.

The government invested heavily in building highways and airports--and it continues to invest to maintain and expand them. Thus, taxpayers already help pay for the highway system and the FAA even if they do not drive or fly. High speed rail benefits would be at least equal to those of our existing modes of transportation.

Federal and State budgets already include large transportation outlays for highways and airports whereas passenger rail receives very little. Research Penn State reports that

Over the 20-year period from 1978 to 1999, federal spending on rail travel totaled $18.3 billion, about 3.6 percent of total transportation spending. In the same period, the nation spent $251.5 billion on highways (49.9 percent), and $114 billion on air (22.6 percent). During these two decades, spending on rail dropped 1.9 percent annually as spending on every other transportation mode increased annually up to 10 percent, according to a recent report from the Mineta Transportation Institute.[1]

In one of a series of articles discussing the pros and cons of high speed rail, The Infrastructurist noted:

...Michael Scott Moore at Miller-McCune...challenges the conventional wisdom that Japan's Shinkansen and France's TGV lines are the world's only profitable lines. It's true that those lines are old enough to have earned back their initial investment, writes Moore, but 'plenty of high-speed lines turn a profit in the sense of earning more every year than their annual operating costs'....
'No one denies that high-speed lines need huge commitments by a government and by taxpayers. But that's not the same as saying they're unprofitable. The truth is that a high-speed train, done right, can earn enough to pay its own annual finance costs, the interest on debt incurred to pay for them. After many successful years, a well-placed line can even recoup the government's investment. Eisenhower's highways earned back their federal investment only because of a national fuel tax, which is still collected.'[2]

The Objection: Few permanent jobs will be created by a new high speed rail system.

According to the Transportation Economics and Management Systems, Inc. (TEMS) report for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), development of a high speed rail network would generate 4,540 permanent new jobs for Indiana and $86 million in extra household income.[3]

A collaborative report by Charles Quandel, P.E. and Lewis Ames, AICP states:

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) is a 3000 mile HSIPR [high speed intercity passenger rail] system using existing rail rights-of-way shared with freight and commuter rail. The implementation of the MWRRI HSIPR system will create more than 57,000 permanent full time equivalent (FTE) jobs and also support 15,200 average annual temporary FTE jobs during the 10 year construction phase....

Using estimates of FTE jobs, wages and capital investment from the Project Notebook of the MWRRI dated June 2004, Vantage Point projects that cumulative federal individual income tax revenues for the MWRRI HSIPR project will total approximately $699 million at the end of the 10 year construction period and $15.4 billion after 30 years of operation. Similarly, cumulative state individual income tax revenues for the combined states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin are projected to total approximately $275 million at the end of the construction period and $3.3 billion after 30 years of operation. Therefore the ROI to the taxpayers "but for" the construction and implementation of the MWRRI HSIPR is $18.5 billion in new tax revenues. [4]

The Objection: Increased passenger use of our rail system will relegate more freight to the roadways.

Actually, the reverse is true. Improving our existing rail lines will allow freight to move faster and more efficiently, as well. Since the rail lines and rights-of-way are owned by the rail freight companies with leasing agreements to passenger groups like Amtrak, the proposed improvements would not move forward if they did not promote the best interests of the rail freight business. Improved rail lines will allow both passenger and freight trains to move more quickly, reducing delays.

The Objection: No one rides the trains we have, so why should we create more?

According to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, rail dominates overseas markets where trains and tracks have been engineered for true high speeds. In the U.S., Amtrak's high-speed Acela grew its share of the air/rail market between New York and Washington, DC from 61% to 69% from FY 2009 to FY 2010, despite the fact that aging infrastructure prevents true 150 mph operation over much of the route. This continues a decade-long trend of growth for this route. [5]

According to Bureau of Transportation statistics, airline ridership increased about 9%, from about 55 million riders per month to about 60 million, between 2000 and 2010. In the same time frame, Amtrak ridership increased from about 1.8 million monthly riders to about 2.4 million, a 33% increase-and this without extensive improvements to the speed or reliability of the train system. Airlines carry about 23 times the passenger volume of trains today, down from about 30 times in 2000.

In Indiana, ridership on Amtrak's standard service increased 10% from Fiscal Year 2009 to Fiscal Year 2010, continuing an upward trend. [6]

And according to an article hosted on Wired.com,

Nearly half the people surveyed by Angus-Reid Public Opinion said they support [the Obama Administration's] proposal to create 10 high-speed rail corridors. Respondents were asked their preferred mode of travel between some of the cities in the Obama plan. Yes, 35 percent said they'd drive, but 32 percent said they'd take the train if it were available....

[Liam Julian, author of "The Trouble With High-Speed Rail", a critique published in the journal Policy Review] seems skeptical of private investment, but it is entirely plausible in California and elsewhere. Oliver Hauck, the CEO of Siemens Mobility USA, wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece that the private sector is eager to invest in HSR. System operators in France and Japan are interested in contributing. The New York Times reports China, through a partnership with General Electric, is eager to help finance and build California's HSR. Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain and France also have expressed interest, according to the San Jose Mercury News.[7]

For more information about the reality of rail, visit the Midwest High Speed Rail Association's Fact vs. Fiction page.

[1] Quote from Research Penn State's Probing Questions series: "Why don't we have high-speed trains in the U.S.?".
[2] Quote from The Infrastructurist, "For and Against High-Speed Rail: Part III".
[3] View the MWRRI TEMS Report.
[4] Quote from "A Business Case for High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Projects: Return on Investment to the Taxpayers of the United States" written by Charles H Quandel, P.E. and Lewis Ames, AICP; presented October 20, 2010.
[5] For this and more data from Amtrak, see page 14 of the PDF version of the Amtrak Overview presented by Marc Magliari, Amtrak's Manager of Corporate Communications, at the 2011 INHSRA Golden Spike Seminar.
[6] Data from section 8.1.2 on page 118 of the 2011 Indiana State Rail Plan.
[7] Quote from an article entitled "Too Often, the 'Trouble' with High-Speed Rail is Misinformation" on Wired.com.