Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on April 9, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.
This was my fifth article published on Examiner.com. Eventually I wrote about 500 articles that appeared on the now defunct news site over the six years between April 2010 and June 2016. This is the one-hundredth from that archive to be republished here.
Examiner.com exclusive - Randal O'Toole on Virginia high-speed rail
April 9, 2010 5:10 PM MST
According to an article in the Richmond Time-Dispatch by Eugene Trani, former president of Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia has received more than $75 million in federal stimulus money to spend on high-speed rail between Richmond and Washington, D.C. The money will go toward improvements on 11.5 miles of track north of Fredericksburg. An additional $10 million will be used to improve a railroad bypass on the outskirts of Richmond.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and other federal sources, the cost per passenger mile for air travel is 13 cents, of which one-tenth of a cent is paid through federal subsidy. For automobiles, the cost per passenger mile is 23 cents, of which one-half of a cent is paid through taxpayer subsidy. For Amtrak, the cost per passenger mile is 56 cents, of which 22 cents is subsidized by taxpayers. For transit (e.g., light rail or subways), the cost per passenger mile is 85 cents, with 61 cents coming from tax funding.
After the program ended, O’Toole answered a few questions about the prospects for high-speed rail in Virginia.
He said that what the government wants to do is “to spend a lot of money running trains a little faster than they run today. We’re not talking about bullet trains. We’re talking about running trains at a top speed of 110 miles an hour, which means an average speed of about 70 miles an hour.”
Continuing, O’Toole noted, “That’s not going to get a lot of people out of their cars, but it is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money. We’re talking about spending a lot of money to get very little benefit for anybody.”
With regard to how best to spend federal stimulus money to improve transportation in Virginia, O’Toole said:
“I think the way to spend the money would be to give loans to states and local areas that would be repaid out of user fees. Because if a transportation project can be repaid out of user fees, we know it’s worthwhile, we know that users want it. But if it requires huge subsidies that the users are never going to come close to paying for, then we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
O’Toole, author of the 2010 book, Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, recommended that people interested in more information about high-speed rail and related topics should visit his blog, The Anti-Planner, and the web site of the American Dream Coalition.