High-speed Fail

Just imagine it: Sleek bullet trains zipping up one coast and down the other at dizzying speeds, filled with lounging hipsters sipping macchiatos and listening to understated Scandinavian techno in pollution-free comfort. The way it’s been sold, high-speed rail sounds far superior to fighting traffic in a Kia or being sardined into an overbooked airplane.

Using Europe and Asia as examples, President Obama has repeatedly promised high-speed rail to travel-weary Americans. “Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city,” he said. “No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

These weren’t idle words. The Obama Administration has spent four years and $12 billion to bring these super choo-choos to the U. S. of A. At last, we’re seeing the fruits of this pricy but essential leap into the New Golden Age of Transportation.

I mean, you must have travelled on high-speed rail by now, right? True, I haven’t, but I’d have to assume that you have. Or maybe your friends. Well… have you seen one of these space-age bullet trains on the east coast or west coast or…? No?

As it turns out, “high-speed rail” is a relative term. If you’re cruising the bingo hall in a 5-mph Rascal and Elma zips by in her 6-mph Hoveround, she’s rockin’ a high-speed bullet scooter, relatively speaking.

So instead of whizzing from city to city at record speed, Amtrak is fine with adding a few mph and calling it a day. CNN actually followed up on Obama’s high-speed rail promises and found a little engine that couldn’t.

“Washington State got $800 million from the federal government,” according to CNN’s Drew Griffin. “That’s your tax money, mainly for improving the track between Seattle and Portland. And what did you get for it? Over a three-hour and 40-minute ride, the trip has been reduced by 10 minutes.”

Griffin asked the State of Washington’s former Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond how this could possibly count as high-speed rail. “Ten minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time,” she said, “but when you think about the fact that you have more options for more round trips, that you know that the train will come and go reliably and on time, that to us is what our passengers tell us is the most important thing.”

Factoring in the six stops in the Seattle to Portland route, $800 million has raised the average speed from 45 mph all the way to 47 mph. According to Google Maps, driving your car will get you to Portland an hour earlier. Talk about a Great Train Robbery.

Griffin couldn’t help but conclude that this was yet another broken promise from the Obama Administration.

People thought they were getting high-speed rail. The bullet trains. That’s what they’re selling. That’s what they’re showing to us.
 But if you look at what was happening in Washington State, you know, right now after $800 million, it’s still cheaper and many times faster to take the Greyhound Bus from Seattle to Portland. 

So what was that investment all about? 
It wasn’t about high speed rail. It was just about fixing up Amtrak, fixing up the low-speed rail and really making freight trains move a little better, but not high-speed rail.

If one train leaves Seattle at 45 mph and another leaves Portland going 47 mph, how long until the taxpayers realize they wasted $800 million?

Watch the full CNN report here.

Follow me on Twitter at @ExJon

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