Mark Reutter has written an informative piece about high-speed rail for the Progressive Policy Institute. It’s got a really excellent overview of HSR around the world and the challenges to building it in the United States. It then pivots to a concern that I’ve heard from many people, namely that the Obama administration has come up with enough money to do a decent HSR project but not nearly enough to build a nationwide HSR network, which raises the worry that the cash will be spread out nationwide and basically accomplish nothing.
His recommendation is that we focus on a viable, medium-sized project to show that it can work and hopefully build more support for further endeavors. Specifically he argues that the various plans floating around to upgrade Midwestern passenger rail are too diffuse and unambitious, whereas the multi-city California HSR plan is too big. Ergo—central Florida:
Florida has already spent close to $1 billion in planning studies and acquiring land for a high-speed line along Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando. The state has asked for $2.6 billion of federal stimulus money to supplement $1 billion in private investment. Construction is scheduled to start in 2012, with the first leg completed between Tampa and Orlando International Airport by 2015. Future additions to the system would head west to St. Petersburg and south to Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The Florida legislature and governor have strongly backed the 75-mile Tampa-Orlando segment. We believe this line should serve as a demonstration project that showcases state- of-the-art technology and proves the viability of fast trains not only to Florida residents but to the millions of Americans who visit Orlando and Tampa yearly.
Florida certains leaps to my mind as a promising candidate for an HSR network. It has a lot of fair-sized population centers that are a slightly awkward distance from one another. You could easily imagine lines from Miami, Jacksonville, and the Tampa Bay area converging on Orlando as a nice way to tie the state together and prevent airports from being swamped with very pollution-intense short-haul flights.