Skip to main content
Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009 11 years ago

OUR VIEW: High-speed looting


As Dr. Phil might say:

Amtrak? And how’s that working for the American taxpayer?

Oh, it only lost $1.1 billion last year.

Meanwhile …

Florida lawmakers Monday and Tuesday passed a bill to create a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando and to increase the subsidies to the money-losing Tri-Rail commuter trains in South Florida (see box).

Aw, what the heck, it’s only more money the federal government doesn’t have and will come out of your pockets and your grandchildren’s pockets in future years. And, besides, all kinds of great thinkers, like, say, Gov. Charlie Crist, say Florida absolutely needs a money-sucking, state-of-the-art, forever-to-be-subsidized, high-speed rail system connecting Tampa, Orlando and eventually Miami.

Forget the fact, the federal government has been such a roaring success operating Amtrak.

It’s remarkable how this works.

It’s starts in Washington. The Obama administration said early that it would commit to budgeting at least $13 billion over the next five years for high-speed rail systems in various locations throughout the United States.

Congress, of course, always eager to latch its lips on any pig’s teat says: Sure, let’s spend $13 more billion that we don’t have to build more trains. Never mind the question of who’s going to pay to keep these things running in the future.

So the pot of gold is sitting there — $13 billion. And now each state must compete for its share of the gold.
Meanwhile in Florida, state lawmakers had already spent more than $1 billion of Florida taxpayer money — yes, more than $1,000,000,000 — acquiring land and planning the first leg of the rail. Just the first leg.

Florida then applied for $2.5 billion of the $13 billion. But the feds said we Floridians need to show more of a commitment to trains to ge this money. What’s more, if we don’t, we would have to pay back $256 million in federal money Congress gave us for commuter rail service that runs from Miami to Palm Beach County.

And that’s what brought on the special legislative session this week. Acting in standard irresponsible fashion, Florida lawmakers committed taxpayers to funding another bottomless, public black hole that will loot all of us of billions of dollars.

Sure, lawmakers and chambers of commerce will extol the great benefits of building this high-speed rail — jobs for their contractor constituents.

But if you go to the Reason Foundation (, which has the most intelligent analysis in the nation on transportation issues, you will find article after article on how every high-speed projection ever made and every cost estimate ever made were always wrong. The costs have always been much higher than projected, the subsidies much higher than projected and the ridership much lower than projected.

As Sam Staley, Ph.D., director of urban policy at Reason wrote recently: “For transportation investments to have a meaningful economic impact, they will need to cost-effectively improve America’s ability to move goods, services and people from one place to another. High-speed rail doesn’t do that. It is an extremely costly way to achieve limited portions of these goals, and it inevitably fails as a broad-based solution to the country’s transportation challenges.”

• SunRail is expected to cost $2.66 billion over 30 years with the state, federal and local governments each contributing $775 million and the rest coming from fares.

• Taxpayers have already spent more than $1 billion acquiring and planning the Orland-Tampa corridor, the first phase of the project.

• Florida has applied for $2.5 billion in federal money to build the Orlando-Tampa/I-4 corridor for high-speed rail.

• The rail bill passed commits up to $15 million annually to South Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter line to cover its annual deficit.The money would come from an anticipated increase in gas tax collections.

• Taxpayers will pay CSX $432 million for 61.5 miles of track.

Related Stories