Should the nation build high-speed rail?

True, there wasn’t a lot new in this debate today on CNBC over whether the nation really needs high-speed rail. A proponent said it’s more fuel efficient. An opponent said it’s not the government’s job to be sure “Yuppies have a train ride.”

Still, for our News Cut purposes, it provides a setting to kick the issue around, in a state that is trying to figure out how to run high-speed rail to Chicago without going through Wisconsin (which doesn’t want it). Minnesota has wrestled with whether the route should go along the Mississippi River, or divert down to Rochester, a more robust economy than anything along the state’s border. Is this all a necessary economic transportation program? Or a construction program?

But pay attention to the wonderful curmudgeon , Mark Haines, who isn’t afraid to point out when either side is presenting a weak argument:

  • BJ

    I have a trip to DC planned and looked at taking the train. 28 Hours. Priced about $450 round trip.

    Flight is about 2.5, get to the airport 2 hours before and pick up bags after another 1 hour total 5.5 hours. Priced about $750 round trip.

    Flight wins.

    Had train been 16 hours or less, I think that would have won. 12 hours, it would have won for sure.

  • Robert

    How about thinking about it with regional development in mind. Airports encourage city centers spread out, whereas trains create corridors of development. Which one prefers is up to you, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Current regional development is centered around roads and expressways, which are rebuilt every 10 years and have all the pollution problems. HSR isn’t immune to pollution concerns (the electricity has to come from somewhere), but maintenance costs are lower and overall trip pollution is lower.

    In my opinion, HSR should replace regional jets which are more costly to operate than long-haul flights.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Governors Kasich, Scott and Walker showed little foresight turning away more than $1 billion in federal funding for high speed rail.

  • John O.

    One of the main problems with current passenger rail is that Amtrak has to rely heavily on mainline freight routes, especially in flyover land. Freight makes money. In the current scheme of things, Amtrak doesn’t.

    Secondly, only one Amtrak route serves MSP. The eastbound Empire Builder stops once in the morning. The westbound stops once in the evening. In an ideal world, the old Twin Cities Hiawatha route would get resurrected, running between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

    Couldn’t Amtrak at least examine the feasibility of a MSP/CHI route on existing railbed with limited stops between the two cities? Just a thought…

  • JackU

    [Disclaimer: I am a card carrying member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.]

    I agree with Robert about HSR replacing regional air service. Let’s look at the trip from St Paul to Chicago. Using Amtrak’s Empire Builder schedule the trip on the current tracks is 418 miles. Scheduled times on Amtrak intercity trains are based on 50 mph average speed en route. The top speed allowed on the current system is 79 mph. So in good conditions they can run a little ahead of schedule. At that speed it takes a little over 8 hours to get from St Paul to Chicago. If you can increase the average speed by 50% to 75 mph you make that a 5 and half hour trip. There was some talk a few years ago about Amtrak testing new engines that would allow increased speeds over current track. While it would speed up the average route speed a little I think it was viewed as a way to improve on-time performance by allowing trains to move faster on open sections of track to make up delays.

    I don’t know enough about the technology they are looking at for the Midwest HSR or what the average route speed will be so I’m not sure what what the speed of that trip would be.

    @BJ: To get the trip to DC down to 12 hours, using current route lengths as a guide, would require doubling the route speed of the trains. That probably won’t happen any time soon.

    FWIW I’ll be on the train to NY in a few weeks. I view the trade off as travel time vs. travel stress. Once I’m on the train I just relax and let the world go by. I’m not sure travel on a regional jet (3 or 4 seats with 1 aisle) is ever really relaxing. 8^)