High-Speed Pork

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Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson provides a blistering critique of the Obama administration’s plan for a national system of high-speed rail. Samuelson dismisses HSR as “pork-barrel” and “a perfect example of wasteful spending masquerading as a respectable social cause.”  

The pork-barrel nature of HSR was underscored by last week’s politically-timed release of $2.5 billion by the Obama administration for rail projects across the country. From the news side of the Washington Post:
Eight days before midterm elections, embattled Democratic candidates cheered the release of billions in federal funds for high-speed rail projects from New Hampshire to California, saying they would help create jobs in their economically bruised states.
The Transportation Department notified lawmakers of the money on Monday and will make a formal announcement on Thursday. The timing of the announcement raised questions about whether the administration was trying to help some Democratic candidates.
The biggest winners of an estimated $2.5 billion pot of money were California and Florida, which have competitive governor, House and Senate races. But numerous other states scored as well.
California will get another $902 million to advance the design and construction of a high-speed rail system initially running from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The money is in addition to $2.25 billion in stimulus money that’s headed to California for high-speed rail.
Samuelson singles out the illogic of California HSR in particular. The state’s “budget is in shambles” he notes and it simply could not afford to fund the debt and operating subsidies that its proposed high-speed rail line would entail. And even if the money were there, it makes no sense for the government to spend billions of dollars on a mode of travel that would benefit so few individuals.
 
Federal taxpayers can’t afford high-speed rail in California or anywhere else. A Cato essay on high-speed rail points out that the cost of California’s HSR would be $81 billion and a national system could cost $1 trillion. Samuelson is right: the Obama administration’s HSR dreams “represent shortsighted, thoughtless government at its worst.”