In his first act as governor of Ohio, John Kasich commits political suicide. Or perhaps not accepting the Federal Government’s $400M check for high-speed rail was he just crazy enough to be considered genius? Now two more governors are on-board (pun intended) with Kasich essentially validating his sentiments and breathing life back into the Ohio governor’s political life.
The truth is that there has yet to be a compelling argument for the latest passenger rail project in the US – at least not in Ohio, Wisconsin or Florida. I am personally excited about the idea of hopping on a train and hopping off wherever I want to go. I have taken the Amtrak and Acela trains up and down the east coast many times – and it is absolutely wonderful! No airport security. No desolate drives to an airport far away from the city. I would jump in the middle of DC and jump of in the middle of Manhattan. It comes down to the numbers.
The numbers work on the east coast. The rail lines up and down the east coast are much faster than flying or driving. Figure in traffic and ridiculous security delays at all the airports; it is not inconceivable for a 50 minute flight to take a good 4 hours. You can take the regular Amtrak trains in just over 3 hours. If you opted for the Acela Express, your trip would be under 3 hours – all for less expense than flying. The rail lines are faster and cheaper than their main competitor on the east coast – flying.
The numbers don’t work in Ohio. The proposed rail lines would be much slower than just driving between Cleveland and Columbus for example. Once you figure in the time spent driving to the train station and parking, the slow speeds of the trains (topping out around 55 mph I believe) and then the cab ride to your destination because the stations are not centrally located you would have almost doubled the time spent had you just driven. In Ohio and Wisconsin the proposed high-speed rail lines would be relegated to shuffling college kids back to school after Thanksgiving – and that will cause the states to subsidize the failing projects.
In Ohio the passenger rail lines need to be faster and comparably priced than driving. A true high-speed rail which traveled over 150 mph would be a huge success and an important investment in the future of our country. Ideally, linking regional hubs such as Cleveland and Indianapolis to International hubs like Chicago and New York via true high-speed rail is much better use of this money – even if the first phase was only able to link Pittsburgh to New York. It’s the quality of the investment and not quantity of rail miles developed.