High speed rail in the United States is off to a clumsy start. After the Obama administration announced it would be dolling out billions of dollars to high speed rail projects around the country, states started putting together project proposals and the like to get their cut of the funding. Then the numbers came in; California would get a lion’s share of the money, followed by the MidWest, Florida, Texas, and the Northeast.
Unfortunately it looks like the most “shovel ready” of the HSR projects, the proposed line between Tampa and Orlando, is already running into problems. For one, it wouldn’t make the commute between the two cities all that much shorter… so why bother?
The Tampa-Orlando line has been in the planning stages for years, and most of the land needed for the project has already been purchased. But on a good day, the drive between Orlando and Tampa is about 90 minutes, according to the New York Times. Having never made the journey, I can’t comment on the drive, the traffic, or the roads. But it does seem kind of silly to place a multi-billion dollar rail project between two cities that aren’t all that far apart to begin with. The train between the two cities would have five stops, travelling at a maximum velocity of 168 mph. But because of all the stops, it would only shave about half an hour off of the commute by car, with the added benefit of leaving you at the mercy of the local public transportation system when you get there.
Furthermore, while 168 mph seems fast… it really isn’t compared to the rest of the world’s HSR. China and Europe’s HSR trains regularly top 180 mph. The 600 mile trip between the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan takes just three hours… three hours! Now THAT is high speed rail.
The proposed Orlando-Tampa line is supposed to be a showcase for HSR in the US… but we already have that in the Acela in the Northeast Corridor. That train takes 6.5 hours to make a 457 mile journey between Washington D.C. and Boston, and Amtrak estimates it would take $10 billion to shave just an hour off of that trip. Granted, there are a lot of stops along the way. But the Orlando-Tampa line is estimated to draw just 11% of the 4.5 million drivers between the two cities annually off the roads by 2015, when the project is completed. That won’t do much to affect the traffic congestion, and neither city is known for its exceptional public transportation systems.
The money for these projects is spread too thin. I’m starting to get the feeling instead of a world-class high speed rail system, we’ll be left with a bunch of half-finished projects and unfulfilled visions. But maybe this project can still be saved… if we take the money back that we gave to California. It’s not like they can afford to finish the project on their own anyways… so why bother starting it?
Sorry Cali… but I hear you can get electric motorcycles for cheap!