• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments


The announcement of President Obama's high-speed rail initiative has given new energy to people in this area who've long dreamed of transforming Indiana and the Miwest with that mode of transportation. We should be careful to take all the hype with several grains of salt. Such rail lines are unlikely to take many cars off the road -- they're more likely to replace for-profit commuter airlines. And they aren't likely to be as environmentally friendly as advertised. This isn't just speculation; it's confirmed by the experience of Japan and Europe:

Since Japan introduced high-speed bullet trains, passenger rail has lost more than half its market share to the automobile. Since Italy, France, and other European countries opened their high-speed rail lines, rail's market share in Europe has dwindled from 8.2 to 5.8 percent of travel. If high-speed rail doesn't work in Japan and Europe, how can it work in the United States?

Answer: It can't. We like our cars much more than the Europeans and Japanese like theirs. Of course, rail can be forced on upon us by a government that wants to make sure we make the "right" choices, which seems to be the way this adminsitration is going.

(H/T to the corner)


Michael B-P
Fri, 04/17/2009 - 9:41am

Informative piece concerning the European and Japanese experiences. But now I'm wondering what the economic impact would be of exanding and improving rail-delivered freight service and whether it also could reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, save energy, and improve highway passenger safety by off-loading some of that traffic from the public highways. Any factoids on that scenario?

Bob G.
Fri, 04/17/2009 - 9:58am

Got my salt shaker right NEXT to me, Leo!

Not to mention...the Midwest has ALREADY BEEN transformed (once)...when governments GOT RID of all the inner-urban transit lines they USED to have.
Another case of wanting to "reinvent" the wheel...

Saw the same thing happen back in and around Philly.
(and, being a "railfan" of days gone by, I've got pictures of former rail lines there to prove it)

And Leo IS right about the impact on smaller commuter airlines...they'll take the biggest hit on it, should rail lines make the comeback our government "wants".

As to money saved by freight?
Well, small hauling loses money, but if you're going cross-country, the cost per mile per gallon of diesel becomes much less, and therefore much more profitable.

tim zank
Fri, 04/17/2009 - 10:26am

Passenger rail is a terribly inefficient mode of transport. Trains can't turn, park, pull up to the door, turn around, etc...You still have to take a car to get to it, you have to wait interminably to board, to arrive, to disembarq, and then you'll still need a car at your destination.
Passenger rail and subways work in large metro areas, period. They don't work well in the other 98% of this country.

If something (passenger rail) has NOT worked well for 80 years or so, I'd suggest not replicating it. It's akin to bringing back the horse and buggy.

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 9:47pm

So let me get this straight. We do not have enough empty space for landfills, so we have to stupidly spend money on ineffective recycling, BUT:

We can run willy-nilly over privately-owned farmland and spend billions on to build mag-lev or welded rail tracks to attract a few curious riders to ride infrequently. Two things that Americans will never give up . . . guns and car keys!

tim zank
Fri, 04/17/2009 - 10:40pm

Gadfly..."Two things that Americans will never give up . . . guns and car keys!"

Amen to that.

Mon, 04/20/2009 - 11:18pm

The railroads started declining and contracting about 1920, not noticeable but that was where one can point to and see less rail miles. The 800 or so people who showed up at Baker Street for the rally aren't enough riders to support it in the fashion it would need to be supported, no matter how vocal their support.

Bob G, don't understand your statement about the government getting rid of the interurbans, unless you're relating that to the highway system improvements that the government did provide.

Bob G.
Tue, 04/21/2009 - 9:56am

That's EXACTLY it...they robbed Peter to pay Paul, as well as the government seeking to COMBINE all the smaller lines into one monstrosity aka AMTRAK (and we all know how well THAT'S been going all these years).

THE PRR was "bought out" by a new company PENN-CENTRAL, and then when that bled out enough money, THAT was bought out by AMTRAK.
And it's still bleeding...

Thu, 04/23/2009 - 8:52am

Bob G., I don't know a lot about a lot of things but I know plenty about railroads and you show me you don't. Sorry, but none of what you say is correct. There's not nearly enough space here to go into it.