Last week we covered an Obama regime Winning The Future moment, their shameless boosterism of high speed rail as though our national future depended upon it.
Even though the regime has proposed to flush another $53 billion into what can only be described as the vanity project from Hell it appears commonsense has taken control. Three governors, Rick Scott (FL), Scott Walker (WI), and John Kasich (OH) have opted to not take federal grants for high speed rail.
Surprisingly, the Washington Post's editorial board, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never come out against federal spending for any public works project, pans the idea.
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S fiscal 2012 budget includes $8 billion for high-speed rail next year and $53 billion over six years. In the president's view, the United States needs to spend big on high-speed rail so that we can catch up with Europe, Japan - and you-know-who. "China is building faster trains and newer airports," the president warned in his State of the Union address. But of all the reasons to build high-speed rail in the United States, keeping up with the international Joneses may be one of the worst. In fact, experience abroad has repeatedly raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of high-speed rail.
In a statement that is going to bring tears to the eyes of Tom Friedman, the Post notes that Communist China's high speed rail is a great deal for wealthy foreigners but not so much for anyone else.
China would seem to be an especially dubious role model, given the problems its high-speed rail system has been going through of late. Beijing just fired its railway minister amid corruption allegations; this is the sort of thing that can happen when a government suddenly starts throwing $100 billion at a gargantuan public works project, as China did with rail in 2008. Sleek as they may be, China's new fast trains are too expensive for ordinary workers to ride, so they are not achieving their ostensible goal of moving passengers from the roads to the rails. Last year, the Chinese Academy of Sciences asked the government to reconsider its high-speed rail plans because of the system's huge debts.
And they arrive at the same conclusion that anyone who has studied the issue:
When it comes to high-speed rail, Europe, Japan and Taiwan have two natural advantages over every region of the United States, with the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor - high gas taxes and high population density. If high-speed rail turned into a money pit under relatively favorable circumstances, imagine the subsidies it would require here. Every dollar spent to subsidize high-speed rail is a dollar that cannot be spent modernizing highways, expanding the freight rail system or creating private-sector jobs. The Obama administration insists we dare not lag the rest of the world in high-speed rail. Actually, this is a race everyone loses.
At a time that requires retrenchment in spending we can't afford vanity projects that have no significance beyond trying to build a legacy. We especially can't afford vanity projects that are nothing but money sumps. If anyone discovers how to build and operate high speed rail at a break even rate we should be there taking notes. In the meantime there is no reason to play in this fool's game.