If California Gets To Waste $100 Billion on High Speed Rail, Then We Want to as Well

David Zetland sent me this writeup on a plan I had not heard of -- apparently Amtrak has a $150 billion plan to improve speeds on the northeast corridor

Take, for example, Amtrak's proposal to bore a 10-mile rail tunnel underneath Philadelphia. As Steve Stofka, a transport blogger, explains, this proposal would require the most expensive type of tunnel imaginable—"It is freaking expensive to bore a ten-mile-long tunnel through an alluvial floodplain under a highly urbanised area—and to maintain it, since it will reside below the water table," Mr Stofka writes. At $10 billion, he notes that the project would be about three times as expensive per mile as the Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps. And all this is for marginal improvements in speed and access. The tracks around and through Philadelphia aren't, generally, big obstacles to high-speed rail—the tunnels in and around Baltimore, Maryland are. It would be much cheaper to replace Baltimore's terrible tunnels than to build a fancy new one under Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia tunnel, unfortunately, isn't even the worst part of Amtrak's plan. That honour goes to a $7 billion renovation of Washington's Union Station (pictured), which Slate's Matthew Yglesias rightly calls"insane".


  1. Sam L.:

    $10B? I'll raise you $90B.

  2. Sam L.:

    And the Green Weenies will be out in droves, and lawyers' cars.

  3. Another guy named Dan:

    And I'm willing to bet that if this is approved, the US will end up with two high-speed rail segments 2000 miles apart and incompatible with each other, so that a nation-wide network will still be yet another generation away.

  4. MJ:

    A nationwide network is neither feasible nor desirable. Outside of the NE corridor, cities are spaced too far apart to be viable passenger rail markets, and trains (even the "high-speed" ones contemplated by the backers of this lunacy) cannot compete with air service.

  5. caseyboy:

    But think of all the union jobs that will be saved or created. A new tunnel under Phily will make the "big dig" in Boston look like small potatoes by comparison.

  6. MingoV:

    "... a nation-wide network will still be yet another generation away."

    There won't be a nation-wide, high speed rail network unless jet fuel becomes prohibitively expensive. That's unlikely to occur in this century.

    At present, one can fly between Boston and LA in less than 9 hours (with one stop) for $166 (as half of a round-trip). High speed rail, even if it averages 150 mph (100 mph is typical due to stops), would take 20 hours. Based on current high speed rail prices in Japan (where the government provided subsidies for construction and operation), the Boston to LA fare would be at $186 (as half of a 7-day 2nd class rail pass). The bottom line for high speed rail: travel times are more than double and costs are higher compared to air. This is the idiocy of high speed rail.

  7. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and CRIS Diagnostic Expert:


    So freakin' what? It's not like there was a trillion dollar budget deficit or anything...


    The above textbook classic snark brought to you by
    Snark ProWerks LLC, Inc..
    "It's in our name, so it must be right."

  8. Rocky:

    What is the allure of the train for politicians? My only logical conclusion would be control over individual freedom or they just like to throw money at things that just don't make any sense or both, probably both. Consider other modes of transportation vs. the train. The automobile is the mode of choice for most, since it will take you within feet of where you want to go with all your crap in tow. A hands down winner in my book. The plane gets you within miles of you destination of choice very quickly, you are relegated to long waits, strip searches and rude taxi drivers. Even the lowly bus takes you anywhere you need very inexpensively. Just don't be in a hurry. The entertainment factor more than makes up for the excess time.

    The only attribute the train ever had was speed over the horse and buggy. High speed rail, even the speediest of them still cannot compete with air and car travel when it comes down to the actual time taken door to door. I almost forgot to mention this nasty little fact. To run a train in excess of 200 mph on electricity takes huge amounts of power, which in the case of CA. they don't even have. Trying to speed up train travel is the equivalent of strapping rockets to the horse and buggy.

  9. marco73:

    The allure for politicians is to have something to show off. Sort of similar to how public money goes to fund sports stadiums for billionaires.

    In our own lovely Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, both the City of Tampa and the County have luxury boxes at their disposal, free of charge. The politicos love to watch the games for free, park for free, and eat for free.
    But ask them why can't any local taxpayer sit in the box with the politicos, and there's a lot of "no comment".

    No politician is ever going to ride these trains, they go too slow, and since the politician's security is paramount, politicians will continue to use government paid cars and private planes.

  10. JohnS:

    If Boston's Big Dig taught us anything, the actual cost of Amtrak's proposal will be $1.5 trillion.

  11. Unix-Jedi:


    I admire your optimism.