High-Speed Rail is Not 'Interstate 2.0'

12 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2010

Date Written: September 9, 2009


The administration has likened President Obama's high-speed rail plan to President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System. Yet there are crucial differences between interstate highways and high-speed rail.

First, before Congress approved the Interstate Highway System, it had a good idea how much it would cost. In contrast, Congress approved $8 billion for high-speed rail without knowing the total cost, which is likely to be at least $90 billion.

Second, highway users paid for interstate highways, whereas high-speed rail will be almost entirely subsidized by general taxpayers who will rarely use it.

Third, interstate highways connect all 48 contiguous states and major metropolitan areas. The FRA's high-speed rail plan consists of six unconnected networks that reach only 33 states and less than two-thirds of the nation's 100 largest urban areas.

Fourth, the average American traveled 4,000 miles on interstates in 2007. High-speed rail proponents optimistically estimate that the average American would ride the FRA's high-speed rail system less than 60 miles per year.

Finally, interstate highways improved social welfare by increasing highway safety. In contrast, far from saving energy and reducing pollution, high-speed rail would actually increase energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

For all these reasons, the United States government should not fund high-speed rail. The $8 billion in high-speed rail stimulus funds should be invested in safety improvements, not in new trains and new routes that will add to future taxpayer obligations.

Suggested Citation

O'Toole, Randal, High-Speed Rail is Not 'Interstate 2.0' (September 9, 2009). Cato Briefing Paper Series, No. 113, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1488806

Randal O'Toole (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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