The Obama Administration has poured $11 billion into high-speed rail projects since 2009, but has virtually nothing to show for it. The goal was to match the speeds of European and Asian rail (they reach 220 miles per hour) but trains are still stuck at their status quo speeds and no notable improvements have come to the U.S. rail system. To take just one example: it will take an additional $150 billion and 26 more years to raise the speed of regional DC-NYC trains from their current speed of 80 m.p.h to Euro speeds. Many experts say the effort was unrealistic from the start, as the New York Times reports:
“The idea that we would have a high-speed system that 80 percent of Americans could access in that short period of time was unadulterated hype, and it didn’t take an expert to see though it,” said Kenneth Orski, the editor and publisher of an influential transportation newsletter who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations. [...]
C. William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said countries with successful high-speed rail projects had higher population densities, higher gas prices, higher rates of public-transportation use and lower rates of car ownership. “So it wouldn’t make any sense to have a high-speed rail train in most areas of the United States,” he said. “The geography is different and other factors are just too different.”
Of course, it didn’t help that the administration’s handling of the funding allocated to high speed rail was “as clumsy as its superintending of the Affordable Care Act’s rollout,” as another expert put it. But even under impeccable management, the project would still be a waste of time and money. Ibbs is right about the factors that limit the promise of high speed rail in the United States, and such projects tend to become obsolete by the time they are built.