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According to the St. Petersburg Times, state economists estimate that Rick Scott’s first budget as Florida’s governor will contain a $3.5 billion deficit. But that is immaterial to the authors of this unnamed editorial in the Orlando Sentinel. They chastised the incoming governor for indicating he might possibly (and should) kill the high-speed rail line liberals want built in Florida. The editorial claims Scott, a Republican, is doing this for political purposes, saying he only wants to do this to politically harm the Democratic President Obama. But to do so, they willingly ignore reality and lie about the benefits of high-speed rail.
The funding for the Florida high-speed rail project is part of Porkulus. From the editorial:
Florida’s $2.6 billion high-speed project would be paid for almost entirely by the feds. Washington has agreed to send Florida all but $280 million of its cost.
The state is running a multi-billion dollar deficit, but the editorial says the state should spend more. Well, maybe not entirely:
And some companies vying to run the trains indicate they’d cover the state’s share.
I assume that means private companies might pick up the state’s $280 million construction tab as well. So it’s possible a private company would pick up potential costs the state would have to pay and the taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for anything. For 30 years. Free train. What’s not to like?
How many interstate rail lines and rail lines that operate between major metropolitan areas are there in the United States? One. Amtrak, a boondoggle that the federal government props up despite the fact that it loses money every year. And while the Sentinel would like to have its readers believe there aren’t any potential pitfalls to this project (it’s FREE!!!), the Amtrak example provides enough proof that the editorial is using smoke and mirrors to simply bash incoming Gov. Scott.
In theory, state taxpayers aren’t going to have to pay for anything, meaning those who pay federal income taxes, including Floridians, will pay to have the line built, and train riders will pay for its operation and maintenance. Again, in theory.
But the only way the state can pay for operating and maintaining this line is if there are lots and lots of riders on a daily basis going back and forth between Tampa and Orlando (where the Sentinel says the first line is to be built). The Sentinel has this:
And it would offer commuters and tourists an alternative to an increasingly gridlocked I-4.
The tourist argument is a red herring. There aren’t enough tourists who would travel between Orlando and Tampa to justify the cost. Tourists aren’t going to stay in Tampa and then take the train everyday to see the sights in Orlando; they are going to stay in Orlando.
So there will have to be enough daily commuters traveling between Orlando and Tampa, people who live in one of those cities and work in the other willing to use these trains for the commute, to make this pay for itself. Estimating gas at $3.00/gallon (it’s going up), the 150-mile round trip between Tampa and Orlando would cost around $24.50. Now it’s possible that the train trip itself can cost less than that; if I remember correctly, a 70-mile round-trip train ride from the western suburbs of Chicago to the city, about $10.50 if driven by car, is around $5.50 per day if you get the monthly pass. But then I would have to pay the price of getting to the station and parking there, about another $4 per day. Then I have to either take public transportation or a cab to get to work, which increases the cost such that it’s cheaper to drive. Even if I don’t have to sit in rush-hour traffic, the time it would take to travel this distance equals out since I would have to work around the train schedule to get to work on time.
What this means is that it would probably cost daily commuters going between Orlando and Tampa, depending on how many there are, more money per day to take the high-speed train than it would be to drive it. So unless there were enough people to take people to take advantage of using the high-speed train on a daily basis, and willing to pay the high cost of the travel, it would seem difficult for the state to recoup the cost to operate and maintain the line, even with private sub-contractors, through paying customers. This is where the state would have to start subsidizing the operation, with taxpayer dollars à la Amtrak and all other public transportation systems, in order to try to make such a rail line meet its costs. All of a sudden that “free” train will become very expensive. If anyone has bothered to check what goes on in Illinois (where I used to live), the Metra/RTA/CTA boondoggle struggles every year to meet its budget, constantly demanding more taxpayer dollars. There is no reason to think high-speed rail is any kind of panacea. But you won’t see that written in the Orlando Sentinel editorial.
Also, the point of building a high-speed rail line is to get people back and forth between Tampa and Orlando quickly. That means it has to be an express route; no stops in between. But if these two areas are anything like other metropolitan areas, the traffic problems are due to a large amount of people who live in the outskirts that travel to the cities to work, not people who live in one city and work in another. So if this new line includes stops to take these people back and forth, there will need to be several stations along the line to stop to pick up and drop off passengers, thus negating the speed advantage high-speed rail is supposed to offer. It becomes a regular, old-fashioned public transportation system which, if built, would probably be a more expensive boondoggle than the ones in place today.
By all indications, the whole “free” aspect to building, operating, and maintaining high-speed rail doesn’t exist for the reasons above, and I’m sure others I haven’t mentioned. In addition, there are bound to be cost overruns; it’s part of any government project at any level. How long does the Sentinel think the private companies building this would eat these costs before dragging themselves to the state government for more tax dollars?
High-speed rail is a statist pipe dream (or another kind of dream, which I won’t mention in a family-friendly atmosphere) to further control the people. In order to sell such an idea, even while states are regularly running huge deficits, statists and their supporters have to lie about it. That is exactly what the Orlando Sentinel did here. Not because the idea of high-speed rail has any merit, but to attack Gov.-elect Rick Scott. He would do well to dump high-speed rail.