Counterpoint: High Speed Rail: Missing the Oncoming Semi to See the Road

Adam has recently discussed his beliefs on why the high speed rail opposition is misguided and shortsighted.  What he fails to do, however, is see the costs of such ambitious long term goals.  To begin, let’s analyze the cost.  The current proposal costs roughly $180 million, although Rep. Brett Davis thinks that it will cost $17 million more than that.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  But the Federal Government gave us that money for free! I never want to hear you say ‘money for free,’ since all money comes from someone.  In this case, it’s federal tax payers, or worse, money printed by the federal reserve (but I won’t go there.)  Now Mayor Tom Barrett has a response to this: if we don’t use the money, some other state will.  But the federal government isn’t paying all of the costs, and the state will end up paying for the operations once the rail is built, a yearly estimated cost of $7.5 million.

Further, the costs don’t make the usage of the rail free, with an expected cost of about $60 round trip.  No thanks, I’ll take the Badger Bus.

So all said and done, what does this project cost?

Initial Costs: $180 million

Operation Costs per Year: $7.5 million

Cost per Round Trip: $60

Footing a bill you can’t pay: Priceless

Also, I’m concerned that ridership won’t meet what the State expects.  But Adam correctly points out that we shouldn’t consider whether we would ride it or not.

Regardless of  if you believe Madison-Milwaukee has enough intertransit demand, the grand project (the forest, if you will) has a large amount of demand!

First of all, this seems unfounded.  How do we know whether or not demand is high enough?  Second, even if the bigger picture is more rewarding, that doesn’t negate the costs in the immediate.  If you are going to justify such an ambitious program, you have to explain why it costs so much to start.  In this case, that hardly seems warranted.  Its looking right past the speeding, oncoming semi truck just to see the clear open road behind it.



2 Comments on “Counterpoint: High Speed Rail: Missing the Oncoming Semi to See the Road”

  1. CampusCaucus says:

    I only correct that Mayor Dave said that quote and that the estimate was for around $20-$25 round trip originally. I too am confused about the new $60 fare. Perhaps to Chi town and back?

  2. Jeff Waksman says:

    Hi, I’m sorry for waiting a week to post on this, but I just came across it. My name is Jeff Waksman and I’m working with Brett Davis on his current campaign. I wanted to respond to this post, and I do appreciate both of the authors of this blog for debating this important issue. And I encourage anybody reading to contact me at waksman.jeff[at]gmail to discuss this further.

    First, the train supporters claim it will only cost $800 Million to build, and that the stimulus money will cover it. But government projects always go over budget, and as we’ve seen with recent train projects in places like Minnesota and Arizona, they can go over budget by a factor of 2 or 3. What happens if this train starts costing $1 Billion or more above what we thought it would? Suddenly our state, already in a budget crisis, has a gigantic albatross it can’t get out from.

    Second, yes, the tickets would cost $60 round trip, and that doesn’t include the taxpayer subsidies to get the prices that low. The $7 Million annual cost the train supporters claim assumes optimistic ridership and that all of those riders will be paying $60 round trip.

    Third, train supporters call it “high speed rail” because they want you to envision Japanese bullet trains. In fact, this train in the most optimistic scenarios will peak at 75 mph, which is why it’s really “slow speed” or “car speed” rail. When you account for time waiting for the train, and then time going from the Dane County Airport to wherever you want to actually go (be it via bus or taxi) it’s unquestionably going to be quicker and cheaper to take a car. If you are taking a round trip train trip, along with round trip taxi to-and-from the Dane County Airport, you’re going to be spending close to $100 round trip. If you instead take a car and park at an indoor garage in Madison, you’ll pay closer to $25 (including gas for your car). Who exactly is going to pay an extra $75 to take a SLOWER trip into Madison?

    Finally, the question is why does this benefit anybody? Who is going to take this train? It has to be someone who is wealthy or who doesn’t care about the costs (i.e. a businessman having his trip paid by his company). Anybody who doesn’t have a car but isn’t wealthy is going to take the bus, which will be a bit slower than the train but is far, far cheaper. The folks who don’t care about cost are already flying between the cities. So we’re not going to be increasing the number of people going between Madison and Milwaukee, we are not going to improve the economy of either city, and we’re going to potentially be on the hook for billions of dollars in the long term. This train benefits nobody, except the corrupt politicians that run our state and their special interest friends.

    I encourage you to sign the petition in support of Brett’s bill at

    Again, feel free to e-mail me at waksman.jeff[at]gmail if you have any questions, or else respond to this blog post itself.

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