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07/08/2009

High-speed rail in Texas?

I have never blogged high-speed rail issues because I don't (yet?) have a point of view on them.  I can see the benefits from subsidizing metro systems and buses.  I don't know whether most of the planned subsidies to high speed rail will pay off.

Ed Glaeser, in a recent Op-Ed, criticized high speed rail for Texas.  On this issue, Ryan Avent gets upset at Glaeser:

Of course, Texas has four of the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas, all within a few hundred miles of each other -- an ideal distance for high-speed rail. Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are currently home to some 16 million people, and those metropolitan areas have added 3 million people since 2000 alone. Congestion is an issue within those metropolitan areas and will continue to worsen as they grow.

Not only is it entirely appropriate to build transportation infrastructure with future growth in mind, it's imperative. America's current sprawling growth pattern resulted in no small part from the mass construction of interstates and highways, which drew suburbanites to previously unsettled areas.

Moreover, Texan metropolitan areas are working to accommodate future growth in a denser fashion by building miles of metropolitan transit systems. Transit and rail are complementary technologies, each of which will increase the return on investment of the other.

My question is simple: how could you take rail from Dallas to Houston and cope once you got there?  San Antonio I can see, at least provided you will camp out in city center (a mistake, but that's a question for a different day).  I am willing to be converted, but what are the odds of such a line attracting significant patronage, with or without ongoing subsidy to the fares and not just to line construction?  Or is the vision that everyone takes the train and then rents a car on arrival?  According to Matt Yglesias, the plan won't even directly link Houston to Dallas.  By the way, here are some of the other planned links from Texas.  Will people really take trains from Houston to Meridien, Mississippi

Inquiring minds wish to know.


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