Recently, several people have been puzzled by the fact that I am supporting putting moderately high-speed passenger trains from Kansas City to Wichita to OKC to Dallas-Ft. Worth. Most of the surprised people are my conservative friends.
Rather than explain to one person at a time, I thought I would post it on my blog.
My support of fast passenger rail (70-120 mph) is twofold: Cost and transportation diversity.
Because of the burgeoning population, the State of Texas is adding one lane to I-35W between Dallas and Denton. Just one lane. Cost: $4,300,000,000. Length: 28 miles. Do a little division and you find the cost is more than $153 million per mile!
Cost to put 90 mph passenger trains from KC to Wichita to Dallas? According to a Kansas Department of Transportation study, the cost is $156 to $479 million. Put another way, it is equal to 1 to 3 miles of one of the new lanes on I-35! The cost of fast passenger trains is a tiny fraction of building ever more freeways.
My second reason is transportation diversity. Watching the airline meltdown in Europe earlier this year due to the volcano, we would be far more adversely affected in the U.S. when the inevitable eruption occurs in the Sierra or Cascades. We also are dealing with the TSA and deteriorating airline service. Given that a volcanic eruption could shut down airline travel for weeks or another terrorism incident that would shut it down for days, fast-rail it seems a wise long term investment.
The only concern I have is whether the stakeholders will run enough trains to achieve a critical mass. The Southwest Chief, the only Amtrak train that currently serves Kansas, runs both directions in the middle of the night. Relatively few Kansans use it (which is OK because it is often sold out). If passenger trains are to stage a revival, then they are going to have to run frequently enough that people will find them convenient.
Given enough frequency, fast passenger trains have my support.