I’m glad Kevin Drum is down with long haul freight rail investments, but can we talk about this?
As regular readers know, I have my doubts about pouring lots of money into long-haul passenger rail, high-speed or otherwise…
It’s hard to know what exactly he means by long haul; in the past I believe he’s raised doubts about whether HSR from San Francisco to Los Angeles could compete with air travel, despite obvious and resounding evidence from the northeast corridor that for such distances, the answer is yes. Let’s assume it’s no more than that distance. Well now, that would rule out an HSR line from Boston to Miami, unless one considers that a long haul route is really a bunch of short haul routes put together. Consider — the distance from Washington to Boston is longer than that from San Francisco to LA, so if SF to LA is the max, then one shouldn’t support HSR from DC to Boston. But of course, that route will also carry passengers from DC to Philly, and Philly to New York, and DC to New York, and Philly to Boston, and New York to Boston. And heading south, a line from DC to Miami would also carry traffic from DC to Richmond, and Richmond to Charlotte, and Atlanta to Jacksonville, and Tampa to Raleigh, and so on. And of course, in Europe, there are train routes from Rome to Hamburg, covering most of the European peninsula, despite the fact that very few people take the train from Rome to Hamburg.
The moment someone advocates non-stop HSR service from Boston to Seattle, I’ll stomp my foot and complain. But in all likelihood, there are profitable routes all across the US of A, such that an HSR network from sea to shining sea is a worthwhile investment, despite the fact that crossing the country is a long haul. And it seems silly and counter-productive to many progressive goals to oppose HSR on the grounds that a line from San Diego to Seattle, or Chicago to Boston, or Washington to Miami could never be competitive with air travel, because hey, that’s like 1,000 miles!