"High Speed Pork" is the heading on a column in yesterday's WaPo by the non-economist economics commentator Robert J. Samuelson, who is not related to Paul A. Samuelson or even the game theorist Larry Samuelson. He has decided that high speed rail projects in the US are not worth the money and should be cancelled. Drawing on a Congressional Research Service study, he argues that even the most beneficial of the 12 under consideration, between LA and SF in CA, is not worth it in terms of diverting either air or auto traffic, with the real problem of auto traffic being commuting, according to him, although it occurs to me that in the future such lines might also be used for freight, thus possibly taking some of the burden of trucking. He also argues that the green externalities are trivial, and that the only foreign lines making money are Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon.
My guess is that overly high discount rates are being used for these calculations. I see many other countries building these, including China and into areas not all that heavily populated, and I see oil prices and externality costs rising in the future. I think investing in these projects is a good idea for the long term, with the US behaving abysmally shortsightedly on these matters, egged on by bozo RJS.
At a personal level an old friend of mine in Wisconsin has been heading up the effort to build these there for a long time, starting under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and going through the past 8 years of Dem Governor Jim Doyle. A likely outcome of today's election is that all this is going to go down to waste as the likely GOP winner, Scott Walker, has declared his total opposition to these projects. So, adios to this, although they did manage to get a line built between Chicago and Milwaukee. But I fear a lot more of this cancelling in the future is going to go down in the next couple of years as a result of today's election.