Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Rail Problem

McArdle knocks this one out of the park by describing how high-speed rail advocates sabotage their own efforts.

The point is not trains for the sake of trains. The point is a viable transportation option that delivers a return on an investment.

Instead of a Tampa-to-Orlando showcase, let's get moving on the Southeastern High Speed Rail Corridor. That line can terminate in New Orleans, after expanding to Birmingham and Hattiesburg.

And you know what city is already reading the writing on the wall? Atlanta. They've recently started moving forward on design.



alli said...

This is why I can't stand McArdle, because she is an "economics" writer and yet writes about rail as if demand is exogenous! Rail shapes development patterns in extraordinary ways, and creates demand.

Demand for alternate modes is not exogenous! I could yell about this all day.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Spending money to build this line threatens both the credibility (see also: Amtrak) and the funding streams for the more important and viable Orlando-to-Miami HSR (which could also be extended north to Jax and the SEHSRC). The Tampa spur becomes much more valuable if you add Miami into the mix, but until then it will be a money loser for the state and a political loser for rail advocates.

Basically, all this rail project would do is allow Disney tourists and Orlando conventioneers to fly into Tampa instead of Orlando. While that is a strong economic motivator, it will not offer the return on the investment for some time.

Whether or not it would generate extraordinary development in the long term, if you create another rail system that doesn't make money or serve an existing need immediately, you threaten any future rail development as a "continuation" of bad policy.

alli said...

You're confusing political arguments with economic arguments. My point is that any economic analysis of HSR projects cannot claim that there is not enough demand for rail in a given location, so it will not make enough money. McArdle can't slam HSR projects for not being cost-effective on the revenue side while treating demand as exogenous, because that is fundamentally flawed model.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

With trains, the economic argument is the political argument because you have to convince a public not only to invest in the infrastructure as a capital project with deferred return, but also that the project is worth participating in once it has been developed.

You can't get around Orlando without a car and you can't get around Tampa without a car. The half-hour you save by taking the train evaporates by waiting on a bus or a taxi that will then have to get you wherever it is you're going (usually somewhere far from the multimodal transportation hub) when you could have just driven straight to it.

Those conditions = rail fail, and politically threaten more viable and dynamic projects.

Hell, this HSR isn't even the best HSR development proposal in Florida. The project that needs support is Orlando to Miami. On that route, you actually start saving time and money by taking a HSR as opposed to A) driving or B) flying. That route can more easily be linked to an Atlantic Coast HSR. That route will create the critical mass required to start changing Orlando's car-only infrastructure and shaping development pattens in extraordinary ways, as you say.

Once that happens, HSR between Orlando and Tampa has a higher chance to recieve the infrastructure support, cultural support, political support, and economic support to be viable.

Dante said...

alli, rail creates demand? Do you have some examples? I'd like to be clear that I'm not challenging your position but trying to understand it. Just at a glance it seems that you would want to build where there is demand instead of building and expecting demand to follow, but my off-the-cuff logic often falls apart when faced with facts and figures.