Florida governor nixes high-speed rail boondoggle 

Good news from Tallahassee: Florida Governor Rick Scott has rejected the proposed high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa and the $2.4 billion that goes with it. “The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risks far outweigh the benefits,” Scott said. As Scott seems to understand, projections of cost and riderships on high-speed rail lines have turned out to be grossly optimistic. If Florida opted to go ahead, it faced two dangers: that it would decide to cancel, and have to repay the federal government for funds paid out, or that it would choose to operate the rail line at a loss, subsidizing the rail line year after year. Scott decided to call a halt, even if it means losing the federal funds currently committed—the same decision Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio made.

Scott told Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood that the federal dollars “are better invested in higher-yield projects,” like the widening of I-275 in metro Tampa and the widening of I-4 in metro Orlando. Some high-rail enthusiasts will scoff at this as the embrace of technology of the past (highways) and rejection of the technology of the future (high-speed rail). But that’s something like the reverse of the case. Japan inaugurated service on its first bullet train in 1964, and France started service on its TGV train, at similar high speeds to today’s, in 1981. High-speed rail technology is three or four decades old. In contrast, we’re constantly developing smart highway technology, including the machines that can exact tolls from moving cars, as on the President George Bush Turnpike in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex or the about-to-be-opened Intercounty Connector in Montgomery and Prince Georges County, Maryland.

Faithful readers know that I have written rather extensively about the foolishness of most high-speed rail projects. Personally, I would love to see a really high-speed train from Washington to New York, one much faster than the current Acela, with speeds comparable to those of France’s TGV and Japan’s bullet train. As a business traveler I would be willing to pay (i.e., would be willing to have my employer pay) the high fares necessary to cover all or most of the cost of such service.

But from Tampa to Orlando? You can already get there in a little over an hour on I-4. The fact is that the geography of the United States and the high capital and operating costs of high-speed rail make it economically crazy for most of the country. 

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Michael Barone

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