Taiwan High Speed Rail
High speed rail in Taiwan, photo by Jiadoldol

[Note from Martin: This is not the “bash Republicans” thread. Please keep the discussion on high speed rail and subsidies for other modes of transport.]

The Republicans are very keen on scrapping Obama’s high speed rail initiative, but I think there’s a fairly solid conservative argument in its favor.

First, air travel is not successful as a result of the free-market. For starters, no airline has ever built an airport. Every commercial passenger airport in the US was built with public money, and the Federal Aviation Administration still gives out $3.4 billion in airport construction grants annually, in addition to paying for air traffic control – a subsidy on the order of $7 billion this year. Moreover, most of the development costs for the initial passenger aircrafts’ construction was directly paid for by the defense department, and it still subsidizes aircraft construction – though to not especially successful results.

The Airline industry’s most profitable era was during the existence of the Civil Aeronautics Board from 1940 to 1984. During that time, the CAB set ticket prices and assigned specific airlines to specific routes. Since deregulation started in 1978, most major domestic carriers have gone bankrupt along with hundreds of smaller ones. Even post-deregulation, the Airline Industry received an $18.6 billion bailout in 2001. Not exactly a free-market result.

A similar story can be told for highways (never mind the recent bailouts for the large auto-makers), but there’s not really a point digging into it here. The highways were built by the government, and subsidized by governments at all levels, that’s obvious. The Federal government has been putting billions into highways since 1920.

En route
Conservatives of a previous era travelling by train. Photo from Banlon1964

Second, high speed rail would encourage Federalism. Most conservatives want the Federal government out of local decision making. Paul Weyrich’s argument for funding guarantees for transit work the same for high speed rail. The High Speed Rail funds the Federal government promised were guaranteed, or would be, if the Republicans would not cut the budget. Playing will-the-Feds-won’t-they game removes power from the local governments and gives it all to the Feds who can remove the funds at a whim.

Third, high speed rail would encourage growth in small towns along the line. An HSR line on the Amtrak Cascades would stop in several smaller cities, and those cities would get a boost in population and development from commuters who would rather live there than live in sprawled-out suburbs or exurbs or would rather take the train than drive. These towns would have a great sense of community and continuity, and could become natural bastions of a certain type of conservatism, though probably not the Scott Walker sort. Depending on land-use patterns around the stations, you might even bring back the “Main Street” of old.

Fourth, high speed rail would improve commerce and the economy. Almost all conservatives agree that enhancing commerce is on the short list of things the government should do. High speed rail would help improve the flow of goods and people across the country, while helping our main national security goal of oil supply safety. High speed rail is certain to create jobs, create housing and boost the economy.

Interestingly, Conservatives in Canada and the UK are behind high-speed rail, while conservatives in America seem to hate nothing more. It’s too bad, because high speed rail could help many of conservatives’ state  goals. So they will try and probably succeed in cutting the program, while everyone pretends that 18 40 daily flights from Portland to Seattle is a free-market, pro-conservative outcome.

140 Replies to “In Defense of High Speed Rail”

  1. More and more, Republicans and Conservatives are not the same thing. The Republicans are an odd mix of Corpratists, moralists, Cheapskates and sociopaths. True, principled Conservatives occupy only a small niche.

      1. Well, because no one feels it necessary to get informed and vote, the crackpots get in – and the crackpots control the purse strings now. By the time these nitwits are done, we’ll be lucky to have any trains at all.

        And the south is gaining seats…….

    1. Since most of the party is made up of Rapturists and older men who read Tom Clancy novels, why should we be surprised?

  2. This is a great post, Andrew. You really nail the core points. To this, we can add in point 1 that US postal contracts for air mail service in the 1920s and 1930s were crucial subsidies to both airlines and, in turn, airplane makers (including Boeing). Airports have been heavily subsidized, and most do not pay market property tax rates.

    I also really like your point about federalism. Regarding economic growth, HSR is utterly transformative for smaller cities along the line. Looking at Spanish cities such as Zaragoza and Ciudad Real and then comparing to cities like Fresno, Bakersfield, Bellingham, maybe even Centralia/Chehalis, suggests the opportunities here.

    In Fresno and Bakersfield, for example, the local Republican political establishment – itself quite conservative – very strongly supports the high speed rail project. That has also been true of their state legislators. Unfortunately, it’s not true of their Congressional reps, who have fallen under the ideological spell of the anti-rail crowd and are dancing to the Koch Brothers’ tune, deciding that it’s more important to please their oil company donors than it is to keep local Republican elected officials happy.

    Arguments like those you’ve put out there have had a lot of success winning over the reasonable conservatives, including people like Florida Republican John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. It doesn’t help win over the ideologues – and sadly, the ideologues are in control in the House.

    1. That has also been true of their state legislators. Unfortunately, it’s not true of their Congressional reps

      Republicans in Washington rarely break party ranks, which is one of the reasons they have become so bizarre in their policies.

  3. Except even reasonable conservatives are often attracted to a policy simply because it pisses off liberals. Your logic forgets that.

  4. I don’t think reasoned arguments are going to convince many conservatives in the current national environment. If Obama supports it and it can possibly be perceived of as liberal, they’re going to be against it, rail included. This certainly hold up in my personal dealings with conservative family members & coworkers…along with the occasional n-word, the most common topics are Muslims, global warming, vaccines, and HSR. If you’re a conservative it’s a very in-vogue thing to be against.

    1. I think part of it is that Obama hasn’t done a good job of explaining exactly WHY we’re building high speed rail. Republicans think this is just Joe Biden’s pet choo-choo train project and are wondering why we’re spending billions of dollars on trains. Even the name “high-speed rail” seems overly specific and specialized. Obama should be speaking more about weaning us off foreign oil, arresting global warming, preparing for an oil-free future – he should be setting concrete goals for HSR and explaining why HSR is the way to do these things. (I almost wonder if GW Bush had better state of the unions than Obama has.)

      While I’m here, I don’t think most Republicans believe “enhancing commerce” is a function of government anymore. In their mind, any “enhancing” of “commerce” is interference in the free market.

      1. Nah, I think Ryan’s figured it out. Look at the common topics of conversation among his “censervative” contacts — denial of reality in favor of Koch Brothers propaganda is the common thread in all of them.

        Frankly if Obama was talking about preparing for an oil-free future and arresting global warming, you *know* what the national Republican leadership and their lackeys would say. “There is no global warming! Drill baby drill! Oil is infinite and will never run out!” We know it because *that’s already what these nutters are saying*.

  5. That’s one side of the argument. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he rejected the funds for three reasons:

    “First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.

    Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.

    Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.”

    1. I don’t know much about Florida, but how much subsidy do its airports get? I bet it’s much more than $600 million over 10 years. The Port of Seattle gets something like $70 million a year, and we’re a lot smaller than Florida.

      Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years)

      My point really was this: if you think 18 daily flights from Seattle to Portland is a market outcome, the $70 million to the Port (a large portion of which goes the airport) isn’t a subsidy, and the feds paying for air traffic control isn’t a subsidy, then putting $575 million over ten years is silly. But when you stop to actually think about it, HSR’s subsidies are tiny – even per traveller ultimately – compared to airports.

      1. The operation of Sea-Tac Airport is entirely self sustaining from user fees. The tax levy mostly pays for capital projects. I think the same analog can be found in HSR, though there is no federally supported rail traffic control.

      2. Amtrak does dispatch parts of the NEC, so I guess you could call that “federally supported rail traffic control”.

      3. The operation of Sea-Tac Airport is entirely self sustaining from user fees. The tax levy mostly pays for capital projects. I think the same analog can be found in HSR, though there is no federally supported rail traffic control.

        Except the capital projects are a huge part of its budget, and part of the reason is to keep the operations going. A $413 million dollar parking garage is a subsidy, whether it’s a “capital” project or part of operations.

        It’s great that it’s (sort-of) self-sustaining now (air traffic control and security aside). HSR could get there, too.

      4. ” A $413 million dollar parking garage is a subsidy, whether it’s a “capital” project or part of operations.”

        How is it a subsidy if the revenue from cars parked in that garage pay for the garage? Parking at SeaTac is not free.


        Parking in the SeaTac garage is $28 per day, or $35 per day on the 4th floor. At an average of $30 per day, if all spots were filled 365 days per year at daily rates, that would generate about $62 million per year. That is 50% more revenue than necessary to pay off a $413 million construction bond. So, if 2/3 of the parking spots were filled, on average, it would pay off the construction bonds.

        And, hourly rates are much higher — $4 per hour. So, it spots were filled just 10 hours per day on average, at $4 per hour, that would be $40 per day for those spots.

        Again, that is people who park in the garage paying for the garage — not taxpayers.

      5. How is it a subsidy if the revenue from cars parked in that garage pay for the garage? Parking at SeaTac is not free.

        What if the revenue didn’t cover it? Who would pay then?

        It’s a subsidy.

      6. My Portland friend says there are not many direct flights out of there; they often have to transfer in Seattle. So that could be one reason why there are so many flights to Portland.

    2. The airport for Walt Disney World (Google “Reedy Creek Improvement District” for some fun reading) is Orlando International, which has as its IATA identifier “MCO”.

      Why “MCO”? Because the original name of the airfield was “McCoy Air Force Base”

    3. Gov. Scott’s rejection of the HSR dollars does not make any sense. The fact that he relied on a report written by Robert Poole who is a paid shill for the oil lobby shows that he didn’t give the rail line a fair hearing.

      To the governor’s points:

      “First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.

      There is no evidence that the project would have gone $3 billion over budget. It is thought that the operator would have contributed capital and operating funds so there would be no funds needed by the state.

      “Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.”

      There’s no eveidence that the ridership models are flawed and Tri-Rail is not comparable. Some ridership estimates are high, some are low, but we don’t have a lot of experience with HSR. I personally think this line would do okay simply because of the Orlando Airport/Disney World connection.

      “Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.”

      Boo hoo. If the feds give money, then the project gets shut down, the state has to give the money back. It makes perfect sense to me; the states need to be committed to projects they sponsor.

    4. This was the same argument Christie used about the Path tunnel and which McGinn is trying to use about Deep Bore.

      The initial “funding” seems to be more of a bait and switch.

      Sure, I’ll give you $2 Billion (of your own taxpayer money) to build this project, but you’ll be on the hook for billions more in “cost overruns” for the rest of your life!

      However, anyone who questions this issue, gets the usual down shouting about being “anti-transit”. It’s the same wrong-headed logic that makes people call Republicans heartless if they cut social programs.

      If you cut a social program that’s ineffective or whose funding goes 99 percent to the bureaucracy instead of the poor people themselves, is that heartless?

      1. Ooh, the scary scary claim of “it might cost more than they say it will”.

        If these claims are based in *fact* — like when the Big Dig in Boston, a *road* project, had a massively lowballed price claimed up front — and like the proposed Deep Bore, which has all the same characteristics as the Big Dig — it is a real argument, which should be respected.

        The trouble is, when it comes to HSR, these claims *aren’t* based in fact. In the Florida case several private would-be operators were so sure it would come in under budget that they offered to guarantee any cost overruns, but Governor Scott, being in thrall to the Koch Brothers, ignored them because he *wanted* to cancel the project.

  6. It rips the English language to shreds to call current Republican Party leadership “conservative,” by any imaginable meaning of the word- but this is nothing new.

    The political and geographic forebears of these people committed the same obscene rhetorical violence every time they defined the word “freedom” to mean a master’s right to keep slaves, and “tyranny” as any attempt by the United States government to apply the Bill of Rights to black people.

    They did the same with the proud term “rebel”. Everyplace slavery held sway, not only did the law explicitly empower both government officials and private masters to exercise unbridled power over slaves, but decreed the death penalty for even speaking against slavery. The only rebels in slave states were abolitionists- and they were murdered by the hundreds.

    Then, as now, this country’s real oppressors never had any problem with Federal power per se. The South controlled Congress in the 1850’s when national laws were enacted making it a Federal crime equivalent to treason for people in free states to help fugitive slaves escape.

    The current Republican Party,owes its present cast not to Barry Goldwater or Paul Weyrich, but to Richard Nixon, who took the South in 1968 by promising not to enforce civil rights laws. The Democratic Party has never called the deserved attention to this fact- because the worst of these people used to be powerful Democrats.

    So I think it’s past time to stop misusing the word “conservative”- which is in no way the opposite of “liberal”- to give respect where none is due. “Slavers and secessionists” fits better. Start calling this country’s domestic enemy by his right name, and maybe he won’t be so hard to face down.

    Mark Dublin

    1. FWIW, conservatism means “favoring incremental improvements over wholesale revolution”. Liberalism means “favoring open markets, free trade, freedom of speech, democracy, etc”. So they aren’t opposites. Somehow American politics have redefined conservatism to mean “opposing government social programs” and liberalism as “favoring government social programs”, but those have essentially nothing to do with the historical/international meaning of the words.

  7. More reasons to support federal & state investment in passenger rail: By 2025 WA will have 1.2 million more people, 835,000 more licensed drivers, and 1.55 million more registered vehicles. Much of that growth will be in the greater Puget Sound corridor, extending from Bellingham to Vancouver (WA). Our economy will recover at some point, meaning more trucks on the road – particularly in the already-congested central Puget Sound. At the same time, it’s nearly impossible to expand I-5 and most other primary routes to accommodate the growth.

    One way to accommodate the growth, reduce future roadway congestion, and address auto-related air and water pollution, is to get more people onto passenger rail (in addition to transit and commuter rail). Investing to increase runs and trip reliability, and decrease travel time, is key to passenger rail becoming a more viable service.

    One other point: While I am a roads supporter also, I do wonder what the “market penetration” was when the first interstates were being built. We hear a lot about lower ridership on passenger rail, but I’ll bet in their infancy that interstates (built with subsidies) were lightly used.

    By the way, some conservatives today will concede that air and roads are subsidized, but will point to the user volume to justify those subsidies as compared to passenger rail. Not saying I necessarily agree, just wanted to share that.

    Finally, thanks to all of you for the interesting political discussion. Just this week I was trying to figure out what kind of Republican I am. I think “Joel Pritchard-Dan Evans republican” sums it up, although dating myself. And the Pritchard-Evans republicans are a little out of favor (understatement).

    1. A lot of subsidized interstates are STILL lightly used. Try driving on one of the empty ones across North Dakota.

  8. “First, air travel is not successful as a result of the free-market. For starters, no airline has ever built an airport. ”

    is this why repubs support air travel and no trains?

  9. One general point about political language and taxation. The American right, through sheer repetition, has managed to put it in the public mind that all taxation and spending are a drag on the economy, and at best a necessary evil. Like the most dangerous lies, there’s a sliver of truth to it: some spending, like bridges to nowhere in Alaska and long-distance Amtrak services that take days to cross the country is indeed socially and economically worthless, and is basically wasted money. It’s hard to separate sensible infrastructure investments from high-profile stupid ones in the public mind.

  10. pro-conservative outcome???

    can an airline lose its planes?? can you lose your car??? can a govt transit train lose its train??

    maybe your outcomes arent what you say.

    1. Scott, your post makes utterly zero sense. What do you mean, “can an airline lose its planes?” Are you asking if they can be misplaced or stolen, like a car? Or if they can be destroyed, at potential cost to life?

      Your overuse of question marks does not compensate for your sentences’ lack of meaning.

  11. There is no reason that you cannot be fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal, and believe in the environment and land-use benefits provided by all forms of transit.

    To build an effective coalition in support of transit and good land use, you have to reach across party lines. The Democratic side has strong proponents for road-building and cheap gasoline and bailing out auto makers. Transit is not strictly a party line issue.

    1. I agree with your facts in generally, but given the current Republican leadership’s propensity for kicking people out who don’t adhere to the Koch Brothers’s desires (example one: Charlie Crist), I’m not sure we can reach out to many Republican politicians. Republican citizens are another matter.

  12. Third, high speed rail would encourage growth in small towns along the line. “

    The point of HSR is NOT to stop at small towns. High average travel speeds and high volumes make HSR successful. Putting a stop in every little town on the way is a technically and economically crippling decision, which is usually owed to political demands.

    1. Thanks Ficher,

      I was thinking I was the only one who felt this way. If I’m taking a HSR train from Seattle to Portland(maybe someday San Francisco?), then I sure don’t want to be stopping in Chehalis, Kelso and Vancouver on my way. I could understand Tacoma and Olympia, but that’s about it. If it takes me three hours to drive to Portland, I would expect HSR to get me there in less time than that.

      1. The long-range plan for SEA-PDX Cascades will bring the travel time down to 2:30, all current stops included, max speed 110 mph, faster than driving. Speeds over 110 mph would lower the travel time even more while retaining access to those cities.

      2. There are lots of different possibilities. You could have locals, expresses, super expresses, etc. as is done in Europe and Japan.

        The Shinkansen has Nozomi service with five stops between Tokyo and Osaka (two of them in Greater Tokyo), Hikari service with 12, and lots of slower trains (locals, sleepers, etc.).

      3. You would have to push the time under 3 hours to have acceptable conventional rail (good that that’s coming… sometime) and under 2 hours to make it high-speed. With an approximate distance of 170-190 miles (?) the current travel speed is 48~54 mph (3.5 hours). With 2.5 hours 68~76 mph. A travel time of under 2 hours (~100 mph) approaches high-speed territory. Today’s advanced high-speed systems average more than 125 mph.

        The chief engineer of the British HighSpeed 2 project does a good job explaining this. Once you get to the truly high-speed systems, HSR offers something [in their respective corridors] that neither air travel or cars can accomplish, i.e. high speed and high capacity (something like max. 20,000 passengers / per track per hour is mentioned). With it comes a regional or sometimes nationwide geographic contraction effect with its economic benefits.

    2. I was particularly interested in this aspect of HSR as well and I can see where Andrew’s argument stands to gain from the ‘small town that grows thanks to rail’ point. I don’t really know how to compromise these two views, but it might be interesting for you to look at how Spain implements HSR and the different services that Renfe offers. If I’m remembering correctly, the AVE (alta velocidad, or high speed) trains stop only at larger cities (typically 2-4 per run) while Alvia trains stop more frequently yet seem to maintain a high level of service. Just thought I’d point this out if you’d like to do some research.

      1. “If a HSR train leaves King Street Station at 12:50pm going 125 mph, and another HSR train leaves Portland at 1:30pm going 119mph, how many people will cheer?”

      2. I’d move a bit away from that small town aspect and see things from the other end. If someone builds an expensive HSR system they better be sure they have the ridership at each station or that at least the small stations don’t produce a time penalty for the trains that don’t stop there. If done right, HSR can substantially relieve some of that development pressure from already overcrowded agglomerations. Which would lead to a more equitable distribution of economic activity (and demand for resources by the way). That could revivify small towns (but doesn’t have to) or cities past their prime (rustbelt, flyover country…).

        Some of the opposition against HSR stems from an understandable lack of appreciation of a potential quantum leap in transportation. If people hear of HSR they think of conventional trains and compare that to cars, planes, etc -> apples and oranges. The railroads killed the canals. Roads, highways, and planes killed (passenger) rail. Where it works, HSR could in turn diminish highways and planes.

    3. No, but you can add in 100mph plus local rail service to the HSR terminals.

      And you can built a rail terminal much cheaper than an airport and (according to STB) the cost of running a train is much less than airplanes so the people can regularly travel on HSR long distances as they would a commuter run or long car trip.

      1. To be more specific, the cost of running trains is much less than that of running airplanes *for sufficient volumes of passengers*.

        If you’re only filling a Piper Cub, the airplane is probably cheaper. :-)

    4. Cascades is not HSR even if the current political climate is calling it that. And even California’s line will stop in several smaller cities along the way (Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Burbank, and other LA suburbs). But at least it’s an alternative to the airports and interstates in a way that the Coast Starlight isn’t.

  13. Interesting post. However I see it as an opportunity to reduce subsidies to the airline industry. Take the whole FAA budget and divide by the number of flights and it’s $25 per boarding. Some of this is legitimate to take from general funds because of the benefits provided. For example weather information and contribution to national defense. As for the Grants-In-Aid to airports that’s used for installing and upgrading mandated safety equipment. It makes sense to bear this cost as a system rather than by individual airport. Still, the funding should come from the industry. Reading through the budget you can’t help but conclude there is a lot of unnecessary expense. There’s 50,000 employees and only 15,000 are air traffic controllers. And while decreasing the number of controllers the agency is asking for a 4.5% increase in pay. In short I don’t see FAA subsides to be a compelling argument to create yet another government bureaucracy. Instead new HSR projects work toward Amtrak being something close to self sufficient. Decreased subsidy of air travel starts to move passenger rail in that direction.

  14. i guess the airline industry is subsidized. are there numerous costs in that airline pay to comply with govt mandates??

    are there private airports in places??

    i think you may be using subsidized incorrectly.

    1. There are very few private airports. I have never seen a single commercial airport (including general aviation airports) which wasn’t owned by some level of government. Most were built with land taken by eminent domain.

      1. my thinking is that aviation was born out of an ohio bike shop right???

        now if govts hadnt just started taking over air industry infrastructure air travel may well have on its own flourished.

        if the govt taxes and builds something that one uses to me that sounds like a govt service. i guess private roads and paths always existed to get goods from one place to another easier.

        if the govt taxes and builds an airport with it i guess some people try to convince others to give them money to operate an airline there.

        like the govt builds roads but they dont buy your car…they tax you on it.

        now if the govt gave you a car buying allowance that would seem to subsidize car driving. if the cars werent on the road i guess you get get a wagon and mule.

  15. No one is advocating stopping in “every little town”. Cascades stops in Tacoma, (suburban) Olympia, Centralia, Kelso, and Vancouver on its way to Portland. HSR would probably not stop in both Olympia and Centralia and certainly not in Vancouver.

    But why would you not stop at Centennial and in Kelso? Both stations serve a catchment area of about a hundred thousand people, especially if there were frequent co-ordinated bus service between Centennial Centralia/Chehalis and Aberdeen.

    There might be a few expresses stopping only at Tacoma overlaying the base schedule, but basic hourly service at 110 mph with three intermediate stops would take less than two hours downtown to downtown. You simply can’t match that in a plane, even the “no TSA” SeaPort shuttle, and driving is twice a long.

    Of course families who still have cars in fifteen years will still probably choose to drive because the costs are amortized over more riders with a full car.

    But the poster is right: absent adding a privately owned and constructed toll road between Federal Way and North Vancouver, there’s really no alternative to buses or trains for moving people in the corridor. People prefer trains even though the capital and operating costs are higher. So trains will probably get purchased and operated with some sort of shared subsidy. The capital improvements will certainly be paid for largely with public funds.

    1. The most effective system would have some runs that do stop in smaller towns, and some that don’t. And that’s what WSDOT is planning, longer term.

      Also, breaking news that WSDOT and USDOT have signed an agreement for $590 of the ARRA rail funds. A really important accomplishment as this is part of the money the House proposes to rescind. They almost certainly now cannot, as the funding is contractually obligated.

      1. I’m glad to see that WSDOT, Amtrak, the FRA and BNSF were able to come to an agreement. Hopefully work can start soon.

    2. but basic hourly service at 110 mph with three intermediate stops would take less than two hours downtown to downtown. You simply can’t match that in a plane, even the “no TSA” SeaPort shuttle, and driving is twice a long. ”

      is there that much people movment between seattle and portland that an hourly 110 mph train (with what percentage of cars filled?) would be chosen over cars or planes??

      is it a project that current rail companies ( im not sure that amtrak is even private) wouldnt do because they think it isnt profitable but its operable if the govt does it??? if the govt built the rail would passneger rail companies bid on when to use the rail like differetn taxis operate on the road.

      1. what percentage of other modes or travel be reduced if the hourly 110 mph train was built and operated??

  16. Something tells me that the author has no idea what he is writing about, regarding subsidies for airlines:

    “Every commercial passenger airport in the US was built with public money, and the Federal Aviation Administration still gives out $3.4 billion in airport construction grants annually, in addition to paying for air traffic control – a subsidy on the order of $7 billion this year.”

    So, how much of that “public money” comes from taxes and fees on airlines and airplane tickets, i.e. user fees? This is not even mentioned.

    I will give a couple examples of this that I found in a quick search. The first is about the third runway at SeaTac:


    “Financing for the runway is coming from landing fees paid by the airlines, passenger facility charges (a fee paid on each ticket purchased), bonds issued by the Port and federal grants. No general tax dollars are being used.”

    The bonds are being paid off with the landing fees and ticket fees. The federal grant likely comes from federal taxes on airlines and airplane tickets. However, no general tax dollars were used.

    I consdider the third runway at SeaTac to be an terrible waste of money. But, if was paid for with revenues from ticket taxes and ticket fees, then that should be acknowledged.

      1. Exactly. Once an industry is mature you can start charging user fees that cover the cost of new capital improvements, but you can’t do that early on. It didn’t work for airlines, it wouldn’t work on Amtrak now, and it didn’t work for the highways in the early days.

      2. “Sea-Tac’s first runway was completed in 1944 at a final cost of $4.2 million (covered by the federal government),”

        And, the federal government was not collecting any taxes and fees from airline tickets at that time? Were airlines paying any federal taxes?

        That’s like saying interstate highways were paid for by the federal government without saying that the federal gas tax provided the funds the federal government used to build the highways.

      3. The federal government was in fact not collecting any taxes or fees on airline tickets at that time, Norman. You can look it up. It *was* however collecting taxes and fees on railroad tickets, which it was using to fund non-rail activities.

        And the federal aid highways were funded by sources other than the gas tax for decades before the Highway Trust Fund was started…. I don’t think that was a bad idea, as the US highway system was a good thing for agricultural transport and worthwhile, but *IT WAS SUBSIDIZED*.

        That’s apart from the fact that the gas tax is not a user fee — it is largely paid by people driving on local roads, and it doesn’t fund those local roads at all.

  17. Second article on airline taxes and fees:


    They use as an example a round-trip airline ticket between Peoria, Il and Raleigh/Durham, NC via Chicago O’Hare. Here are the taxes on a $300 base fare:

    Base Airline Fare $300.00
    : Federal Ticket (Excise) Tax (7.5%) 22.50
    : Passenger Facility Charge (PIA) 4.50
    : Federal Flight Segment Tax (PIA-ORD) 3.70
    : Federal Security Surcharge (PIA-ORD) 2.50
    : Passenger Facility Charge (ORD) 4.50

    : Federal Flight Segment Tax (ORD-RDU) 3.70
    : Federal Security Surcharge (ORD-RDU) 2.50
    : Passenger Facility Charge (RDU) 4.50
    : Federal Flight Segment Tax (RDU-ORD) 3.70
    : Federal Security Surcharge (RDU-ORD) 2.50
    : Passenger Facility Charge (ORD) 4.50
    : Federal Flight Segment Tax (ORD-PIA) 3.70
    : Federal Security Surcharge (ORD-PIA) 2.50
    Total Taxes and Fees $63.50
    Taxes as % of Fare 21.8%
    Taxes as % of Ticket 17.9

    So, on that $300 base fare, there was $63.50 of various taxes and fees, including a 7.5% federal excise tax, which goes to the federal government, and is the source for the expenditures the listed in the article on this blog. That is a totl of 21.8% taxes on the $300 base fare

    In comparison, here is a list of all the taxes and fees on a $300 AMTRAK ticket:

    Total: 0

    1. Norman neglects to note that the railroads that were driven to create Amtrak (which is not only a train operating entity, but is also a pension plan for former private passenger employees) have paid taxes to general funds through payroll, sales and property taxes, etc.

      Those funds were never dedicated back to the infrastructure that supported the rail mode, indeed they were used to seed the creation of the robust networks of other modes.

      There were taxes placed on rail tickets prior to the creation of Amtrak and those taxes were also put in the General Fund where they were used to build things like my above mentioned McCoy AFB in Orlando, Fla., or the U.S. Route highway system, etc.

    2. Norman, no one is anti-airports around here, and it’s awesome they are partly self-sufficient. But they were given breath by the Federal government, and HSR should get a chance, too.

      1. The heyday of airlines, financially, was when they were government-regulated monopolies, as has been noted elsewhere; the government centrally planned the system and basically prohibited competition on any single route (occasionally two carriers were allowed on one route).

        This allowed high pricing and profitability, as most monopoly/cartel systems do. They competed only on service, which of course made it a nicer experience.

      2. That’s similar to the trucking and freight rail industry. After deregulation, rates quickly fell and many railroads went bankrupt and/or consolidated, while the number of trucking companies exploded. In fact, the trucking industry opposed deregulation in the 1980s. Bad for the trucking industry, great for shippers.

  18. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2007-04-16-air-travel-taxes_N.htm

    “The nation’s air transit system is financed primarily through federal excise taxes and other special charges that have collectively generated $117 billion since 1997 — mostly from the pockets of airline passengers. A smaller portion comes from airlines and freight carriers in the form of fuel and cargo taxes, and these costs also are frequently passed along to customers.”

    This article was written in 2007, so that is $117 billion over 10 years.

    1. How was the air transport infrastructure originally financed? You can’t pay for something via user fees until there are users.

      1. One big indirect government subsidy of air travel is the military. The Air Force and Navy trains lots of pilots; what do they do when they get out? Many become commercial pilots. They need to be retrained to fly airliners, but it’s got to be easier than starting from scratch for the airlines.

        Also, what are you going to do with a military airfield that’s excess to requirements?

      2. Sure you can. It’s called “bonds.” Sort of like a toll bridge. Pay for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with revenue from bonds, then pay off the bonds with tolls from bridge users over the next 20 years, or so.

        [Ad hominem parts deleted.]

      3. Zed is right, the original airports were paid with federal cash, not fees. Were they self-sustaining now (they aren’t see bailouts, air traffic control, etc.), that wouldn’t change that fact.

      4. This “bonds” point is off, Norman. If the federal government lends you money and you pay it back, that’s a subsidy.

        If you can’t understand that, then go ask the feds for a loan to start a HSR business.

      5. You have any documentation of that, Andrew?

        And, even if that is true, user fees can be used to pay back whatever “cash” was spent on the original airports, right?

        Nonetheless, I would suspect that the “original” amounts spent on airports is a tiny fraction of the total that has been spent since whenever the original airports were opened. And, the federal excise tax, and other federal taxes and fees on airline tickets have been in effect for decades. And landing fees, etc. pay for airport expansion and improvements.

        Why don’t you document for us how much federal excise tax has been collected on AMTRAK tickets since 1997?

      6. You have any documentation of that, Andrew?

        Documentation of what? The meaning of the word “subsidy”?

      7. Using the NARP numbers I have to revise down my estimate of $25 per boarding to $8 per boarding. That’s not really a fair number though because it allots nothing to the considerable number of air cargo flights which even if you never use 2nd day air virtually everyone derives some benefit from. At least if you’re a Republican it’s essential to getting your Beaujolais Nouveau. There’s also air ambulance, banking and a host of other benefits like weather and national security I mentioned above. Then there’s the payroll and corporate taxes companies like Boeing, UPS, etc. return to the federal government not tho mention the overall economic stimulus of air travel for business and tourism. Just a Wikipedia entry I stumbled on:

        According to the United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, rail and mass transit are considerably more subsidized on a per passenger-mile basis by the federal government than other forms of transportation; the subsidy varies year to year, but exceeds $100 dollars (in 2000 dollars) per thousand passenger-miles, compared to subsidies around $10 per thousand passenger-miles for aviation (with general aviation subsidized considerably more per passenger-mile than commercial aviation), subsidies around $4 per thousand passenger-miles for intercity buses, and automobiles being a small net contributor through the gas tax and other user fees rather than being subsidized.[80]

        I haven’t dug through these numbers. Kato Institute (yeah, I know, right wing nuts) put’s the passenger rail subside at $220/1k miles. I fear Amtrak’s distortion of ticket prices would mean none of the HSR projects would ever be able to charge rates comparable to Europe and Japan.

      8. “I fear Amtrak’s distortion of ticket prices would mean none of the HSR projects would ever be able to charge rates comparable to Europe and Japan.”

        It’s not a given that Amtrak will operate all of the HSR lines, which would be a good thing.

  19. “This “bonds” point is off, Norman. If the federal government lends you money and you pay it back, that’s a subsidy.”

    How is that a subsidy? If user fees pay the total that the government had to pay on the bonds, then it did not cost any other taxpayers a dime, did it? If the Port of Seattle sold bonds to finance the third runway, and those bonds are being paid off with fees on airline tickets, then how are taxpayers “subsidizing” the third runway?

      1. That, of course, is the key. If general taxes are used to pay for the construction bonds and operating costs, that is a tax subsidy. If user fees are used to pay off the construction bonds, and operating costs, then there is no subsidy.

        If people could park in the SeaTac garage for free, and property taxes were used to pay off the construction bonds and to operate the garage, then property tax payers would be subsidizing people parking in the SeaTac garage. However, if the revenue from parking in the garage pays off the construction bonds and pays the operating cost, then the people who park there are paying the full cost of the garage, and there is no tax subsidy for their parking at all.


        I think your confusion seems to come from your seeming belief that the property taxes the Port of Seattle collects every year are spent on SeaTac airport. They are not. They are mostly spent on the Port of Seattle — the actual port on the water with the huge cranes that load and unload container ships. It costs a lot of money every year to operate the port, and lots of that money is property tax revenu.

        And the Port also spent tens of millions of dollars on cruise ship terminals and stuff like that. When they moved the cruise ship terminal from south of downtown to Interbay a few years ago, that cost tens of millions of dollars, which just came from property taxes, I believe.


        “The $18 million cruise ship Terminal 30 was itself rushed through development to open in 2003.

        “Once the dreary weather drives the cruise ships away this fall, Terminal 30 will be revamped to host container ships brought in by a joint venture between China Shipping Lines and SSA Terminals by May 2009.

        “This time, T 30 / 91 Program Manager Janice Zahn and Container Operations Director Michael Burke, with the support of port Chief Executive Tay Yoshitani, asked the commission to approve $3.2 million in additional funds. The commissioners approved the additional funding 5-0 Tuesday.

        “The move raised the cost of the previously $118.3 million project to $121.5 million.”

        About $121.5 million was spent by the Port of Seattle to move the cruise ship terminal from Terminal 30 to Terminal 91.

        The Port of Seattle is heavily subsidized with property taxes. But SeaTac airport is not. Even Oran, in this thread, mentioned that.

      2. Norman, if the feds give an interest-free loan to the Port of Seattle to build some airport facility, the Port doesn’t need to hold a bond auction and it doesn’t need pay the interest expense on the bonds.

        If the interest rate on the fed. loan is less than the interest rate that the Port could get in a bond auction, the Port will pay less interest than it would on the bonds. In either of these cases, the port saves money, but the feds have given them a gift. So the interest rate on the loan helps you figure out if there’s a subsidy.

      3. Subsidy:

        Subsidies are not just cash. A great deal of market activity involves controlling and sharing the risks and rewards of economic activities. Subsidies are government-provided goods or services, including risk-bearing, that would otherwise have to be purchased in the market . Subsidies can also be in the form of special exemptions from standard required payments (e.g., tax breaks).

        If the government is shouldering the risk for a project, it’s a subsidy. I can’t help you just because you don’t like that definition.

    1. It’s a pointless argument anyways, since I’m sure most people here would be in favor of HSR being funded through a government-backed bonding scheme paid off with ticket revenue, or a public-private partnership. No ones looking for a handout Norman, just balanced transportation infrastructure investment.

      1. Ticket prices on passenger trains don’t even pay for the operating cost of those trains, so how could they possibly pay off the construction bonds?

      1. That does not say a thing about how airports were paid for. Did airlines pay fees to use the first airports?

      2. Look, Norman, who cares? I’m not going to let you send me down any more rabbit holes.

        Your point has nothing to do with the post. If the government builds something, that’s not the free market (by definition). Whether it gets the public to pay for it ahead of time or later (through “coercive” taxes, through user fees, whatever), that’s not the free market.

        There’s no arguing that.

      3. What does “free market” have to do with anything? We are talking about subsidies. The government can own and operate something without subsidies. If the users pay all the costs, then there are no subsidies! Even if the government owns and operates it.

        For example, a parking garage. If the government builds and operates a a parking garage, and the revenue from people parking in that garage pays for the entire construction and operation of that garage, it is not subsidized by taxpayers — not tax dollars are used to pay off the construction loan, or operated the garage. The fact that it is owned and operated by the government does not mean that it is subsidized.

      4. I’m not going to argue this other than

        1) You are not using the word “subsidy” as most people understand it. You are taking an extremely narrow definition of the word and making a semantic argument with your own definition. The government favouring one industry (airlines) at the expense of others (rail) is considered a subsidy.

        2) If the government builds a parking lot, driving is encouraged over, say, biking. That’s a subsidy for driving.

        I’m not your teacher, buy a book and learn something about the words you’re using incorrectly.

      5. “2) If the government builds a parking lot, driving is encouraged over, say, biking. That’s a subsidy for driving.”

        Not if the parking fees pay for the garage. Then there is no subsidy.

        However, if bikes are allowed to park for free and use streets for free, then bicycles are being encouraged over driving.

      6. IF the government accepts the risk, or doesn’t pay tax, that’s a subsidy. There are many types of subsidies. One type is cash. That is called a direct subsidy. All other types are non-direct subsidies.

        Some are monetary payments from others through the government. Government mandates for ethanol in gasoline is a subsidies to corn producers, even if the government isn’t paying directly for the ethanol. If the government promises to pay for this garage whether or not user fees will pay off their loans, it’s a subsidy. It’s not a subsidy at the point tax dollars are used, it’s a subsidy at the start.

        Again, I can’t help you figure out what that word means if you don’t want to take part. But insisting the word means something different from what it’s widely understood doesn’t make you correct.

  20. I have to wonder how much of the Republicans’ opposition to HSR is that it has been coupled with the environmental and climate change agenda–to which they appear to be allergic?

  21. Norman’s been around a long time. He probably knows. But what about the property taxes we pay to the port? None of our property taxes go towards Amtrak or Sound Transit.

    1. I’ve always wondered about that line item too. Why, when the Port should be a money making machine, are we paying property taxes to support it?

      1. Especially since the Port makes a lot of money by using its property-tax-free parking garages (which were financed by tax-free bonds and guaranteed by government) at Sea-Tac to undercut and steal business from the private parking operators around Sea-Tac who pay property tax!!

      2. Not too worried about the main garage stealing customers from Wally Park. The Port charges a heck of a lot more than the off airport parking and none of them seem to be lacking for business. What a lot of people don’t know is most of the hotels will let you park free for a week if you spend a night at the hotel. It’s cheap parking and you don’t have to worry about missing you’re flight because of traffic or a transit hick-up.

  22. Norman,

    You will admit that the greatest advances in aviation have taken place in wartime.

    The first aviators to use the Templehof marching grounds in Berlin as an airfield?

    The Wright Brothers on a sales-tour of Europe, trying to get Kaiser Willie to buy one of their contraptions!


    (Interesting given what that field later did when it became an airport for the Germans, and then a base for the U.S. during the Berlin Airlift)

    DC-3s produced in such numbers, Douglas is able to expand and develop its later models.

    1000’s of surplus DC-3s and -4s available after the war help startup many of the ancestors of today’s airlines.

    B-29s used as the base of the Boeing Stratocruiser.

    Jet engines developed by both the British and the Germans because of WW2

    On and on and on. All due to massive public funding.

  23. If we are comparing the costs of air travel vs. train between Downtown Portland and Downtown Seattle, it seems that a 2.5 hour train trip is closer to the time to fly than we might be giving it credit for. The 35-40 minutes that the pane is in the air is not the correct answer here.

    Unless I happen to live near one airport or the other, it is about 25 minutes by taxi from Portland to PDX. Seattle is, what, 30-40 minutes away from the airport? Depending upon mode of transport used there, of course. And figure not 35 minutes but an hour for boarding the plane and getting through the airport. (Though admittedly, that is a bit of a guess, since I have either driven or taken the train or bus for all but one trip in the last 30 years.)

    So, if it really took, say, two hours to “fly” between the two cities (and someone else could probably improve on that estimate), then that would seem to make a 2.5 hour downtown-to-downtown trip look really good actually.

    The high-speed rail might be better than we think.

    1. i dont know how much traffic there is between seattle and portland.

      the state of nc put a fair amount of money to rail inbetween charlotte and raleigh amtrak. it is about at a car trip equivalent time.

      both rail terminals are in a downtown area. for raleigh, if going to popular research area, it is right at the airport and requires about a 15 to 17 mile drive from downtown. total distance between the two cities is about 180 miles.

    2. Same thing comparing car travel time to high-speed rail between Seattle and Portland. From the Seattle train station to the Portland train station might be 2.5 hours by hi-speed train, compared to 2.75 hours in a car. But, by car you drive directly from your starting point to your destination. And you don’t have to get to the train station 30 minutes or so early, then wait however long for a bus at the destination train station to take you to your final destination.

      So, by train there is a transfer at each end, whereas by car it is door-to-door in one seat. For most trips between Seattle and Portland, car would likely be far faster door-to-door than high-speed rail.

      1. Or, if you want to drive.

        Or if you prefer to spend 6-7 hours concentrating your full attention at the highway and taillights over reading a book, taking a nap, leisurely sightseeing, getting work done, etc.

        Don’t get me wrong, driving has its place, like large family roadtrips, but I’d never drive solo to Portland.

      2. As Oran says. Yes, for a large family trip taken outside rush hour, driving is faster and cheaper. Possibly even for two drivers. For four people, it may continue to be cheaper even at future gas prices; for two people, probably not.

        For a solo trip, driving is certainly not faster (if you’re going to be safe, you have to figure in multiple stops to rest your eyes — it is not safe to drive more than 2 hours straight). It’s also more expensive than the train, already.

        (You may consider electric cars when it comes to the price issue, but they do need to be recharged and this distance is long enough that the recharging would make them even less competitive on time.)

        Of course your situation will be different if you’re going from south-of-Tacoma to north-of-Vancouver,WA but for the average person travelling Seattle-Portland the train will be faster (once they get it to the target 2.5 hours).

        Your estimate of car driving time is VERY lowball — did you assume no traffic, speeding, and no rest stops? Google gives 2 hrs 55 minutes without traffic, but 3 hours 30 minutes with traffic. Even if it takes you half an hour to the station at each end, the train is likely to beat the car on time.

        And the drive is always less pleasant; at the very least it’s more crowded. For a business trip, the time on the train is productive and the time driving isn’t (unless you’ve got a chauffeur, naturally).

        But you know all this, you just don’t want to admit it.

      3. Seriously, I’ve gotten between Seattle and Portland in less than 3 hours by car but it has always been on something like a Sunday afternoon and with huge amounts of speeding outside of the well-known speed traps. In other words, atypically good conditions and illegal behavior. If you found out a Talgo was going 110 mph or something, it strikes me that you’d be one of the first to scream bloody murder.

        It also once took me 8 hours on the Wednesday before a Thanksgiving. The worst delays I’ve experienced on any of the Northwest trains (including a mechanical failure where we were transferred to buses) have paled in comparison to that in both absolute and relative terms.

        Please be less intellectually dishonest.

      4. “intellectually dishonest”?

        You have not even addressed my main point, which is “door to door” travel times.

        How long did it take you to get to the train station from your home or office (or wherever your trip actually began)? How long did you wait for the train? How long did you wait for a bus or other transit at the destination train station? How long did it take you to get to your ultimate destination from the train station?

        By car, there are no transfers, and you take the most direct route from door to door. You don’t have to go miles out of your way to get to and from train stations.

      5. Yes, intellectually dishonest.

        You are conflating many different reasons for traveling and unequivocally stating that driving is better. Always. And then, unconvinced of your own argument, you thumb the scales on door-to-door times by comparing your best to its own worst. This is almost textbook intellectual dishonesty.

        There can be ONLY a rough comparison of times because a) driving times are ridiculously variable due to traffic in a way that train (and plane) times are not generally and b) travel times vary based on where you live in the metro areas and where you’re going.

        Have you ridden the Cascades? Even with its 66% on-time rate, it is a rare train that takes more than 4 hours to reach Portland regardless of time of day. That’s downtown to downtown, of course. Downtown-to-downtown by car ranges from a bit shy of 3 hours to upwards of 5 hours depending on time of day.

        Door-to-door will vary from person to person. Still, if you are one of the many hundreds of thousands of people who live within 45 minutes of downtown by transit and are going to something at the Convention Center in Portland or PSU or museums or whatever then, even now (!), you’re talking about 4h45m v 3h15m(+/- your driving time to I-5) with a mandatory bathroom break in Thurston County. 90 minutes of overall savings but on a train one can also eat, use the bathroom or do work without adding additional time to the trip.

        Certainly, for a rich and [ad hom] Republican like yourself who lives out in East County and, for whom, a transit ride downtown is something like 1.5 hours or so, you are right. But there are a lot of other people who are NOT you. You should learn that.

  24. I sure hope that even if we get high-speed rail, or some version of it, we continue to serve the smaller stops on some runs. One of my favorite things to do on a day off is take a little day trip to Centralia: Have lunch and a few drinks at at the Olympic Club, and poke around the antique shops for a few hours before hopping the afternoon train back. It really is fun! No responsibility, no worry about traffic, a cheap and cheerful little getaway.

    Once they move the station in Tacoma that will be fun also, what with link right across the platform basically.

    If they do want to dump any stations, i vote for Olyimpia and Kelso. Olympia is a great town, but it takes an hour to get there by bus from the train station. Kelso is just empty. There’s nothing within walking distance of the station,

    1. In terms of ridership figures, the Tukwila station is one that should get the axe followed by the Centennial station at Olympia. Vancouver (WA) should go only after the light rail connection to Portland is complete – currently its ridership is too high to justify cutting it.

  25. Proviso:

    I am a Republican and I favor High Speed Rail.
    I define High Speed rail as trains that go faster than 160 mph.

    The arguments:

    (1) Air Travel Subsidies

    Air travel has been subsidized for many reasons over rail. First of course is the geography of the United States. The spread out nature of 20th century “cities” just made air a better choice over rail for speed and distance and technological reasons. Secondly, aircraft companies that fed off of boom and bust defense contracts had to be kept going…passenger travel was a way to keep Boeing, McDonald Douglas and others afloat. Regulation: yes airlines were profitable, but they were restricted to the wealthy. I grew up 5 miles from JFK airport. On weekends, as a “treat” my Dad would take us there so we could watch the planes take off and land. However, getting on a plane was prohibitively expensive for us. I never went on a plane until 1980 when deregulation made it possible for me to buy a ticket, finally.

    Rail is possible now because of one reason — sprawl, the rebirth of Agrarian lifestyles and the desire of Americans to leave the hoary Urbs and live like people again. Sprawl makes HSR make sense. I want a 300 mph train from Tacoma to Yakima to Pasco to Spokane and places in between. There is no reason I cannot “commute” in today from a farm out East, and work in Bellevue. No technological reason.

    (2) Federalism

    Airlines favor centralism far more than HSR. If it were up to the airlines everyone in America would live in New York and LA and fly back and forth on jumbo jet liners everyday. Short runs are costly.

    One reason I favor plus 160mph transport is that Americans can spread back out across the landscape and repopulate the towns and farms of the countryside. No longer do we have to be corralled on the 66 million out of 2 billion acres that represent the 30 metro areas. No longer will we be subject to bullying mayors and city councils who take our property and force us into cubbyhole condos when we want more, not less sprawl.

    (3) High speed rail would encourage growth in small towns

    Beauty. I’m with you, man.

    Fourth, high speed rail would improve commerce and the economy.


    However, as I noted, I do not consider the billions being spent on making our current choo-choo trains go from 40 mph to 80 mph “high speed rail”. I have favored taking all the money from all the states and bundling it up into one really good HSR project that would then serve as a model.

    I think the two best places to do this are California and Washington. California has the best technological plan, but unfortunately, they are building in the middle of nowhere.

    Washington could take that real HSR technology and build here because fortunately and especially now with declining real estate values, there’s still plenty of open land near the major population centers to be able to afford to do it. There is ample labor, good weather and knowledgeable people who will work for a fair wage to get this project done.

    I think Barack Obama and this country should make Washington State a showcase for rail. We are primed for it. Let us build you true HSR, America.

    1. You make a lot of good points, I just want to say something about one of them:

      The spread out nature of 20th century “cities” just made air a better choice over rail for speed and distance and technological reasons

      Airports helped that spreading out. In 1920, right before the federal government really got serious building highways or airports, the USA was not nearly as spread out.

      Even today, there are cities near enough to eachother that they don’t need planes to travel, but you have to because the rail service isn’t great. Sea-Tac has 40 daily flights to Portland and 12 to Vancouver (why you consider take-offs and landings, that’s about 10% of Sea-Tac’s volume).

    2. I was going to say I disagreed with you on sprawl, but I’m not sure I do.

      *Small towns* are where it’s at. I don’t approve of the infinite tract houses with ChemLawns on former agricultural land, with strip malls and boulevards displacing wilderness. But small towns, with clusters of fairly close houses within five minutes of wilderness or agriculture in any direction, with grocery stores and restaurants (etc.) clustered in the middle of town around the train station with fast service elsewhere? Best of all worlds.

      1. Yes, small towns are awesome! They do them right in Europe and Asia, too. Walkable, compact and right next to wildernes (or farms)

  26. Airline deregulation: the airlines that couldn’t function in a free market went bankrupt. That’s a good thing. You forgot to mention all the airlines that have been started and thrived since then like Southwest and Jet Blue. The results of (partial) deregulation are clear: lower costs for consumers, more choice and more service to more cities.

    The 2001 money was to offset the distortions of 9-11. (Remember that?)

    Communities build airports to attract airline business. They want that business to both collect taxes from travelers and make it easier for local businesses to compete nationally and around the world.

    One of the key benefits of air travel is that when travel between points A and B becomes economically unprofitable airlines will stop flying between those two points. Those resources can be used to serve other routes. You can stop trains from running but that leaves all those unused rail lines that were built with public money just sitting there and in order to serve two new markets you have to build new rail lines. That inefficiency is what made trains losers to airlines, not some evil distortion in the free market (though distortions do exist).

    Finally, it’s not “high speed” rail if trains stop every 20-30 miles to service “small towns”. We already have that with bus lines and it’s why a one hour trip by car ends up being two hours by bus.

    The answer to existing distortions is to remove them, not create new ones that favor trains. If the free market made train service profitable there would be entrepenuers and companies out there building them right now. (And fighting the government to get it done, too.)

    1. Some of the new ones have thrived, others have gone out of business as well. Also, see my link about subsidies, the US government pays airlines to fly between rural airports.

      1. In the FAA budget there is something (forget the name, think it was EAS.. Essential Air Service) where they are compelled by Congress to continue air traffic control to Podunk because it’s in so and so’s congressional district. FAA wants to end this. It’s on the cut list and it looks like slowly this will end except for Alaska and Hawaii. I’m not aware of any direct payments to airlines to serve rural airports… but it wouldn’t surprise me. This all points to reasons to cut spending not a justification for more subsides.

      2. They can spend their money on that if they want to, but let’s leave the other transportation too. 80% of the budget is either defense, medicare or social security, cut those.

      3. The big problem with defense spending is it’s not actually the Pentagon that wants to waste money. Look at how hard is was for Congress to cut funding for the 2nd engine for the F-35; something the Pentagon didn’t want. And it’s not the Military that decides to go to war! You won’t find a more anti war constituency than the men and women in our military. You’ve pointed brought up the Boeing contract that Patty “Tanker” Murry has made a signature issue when UAVs are clearly the future (although I do believe there is a legitimate need for a new tanker platform it’s not of the scale currently being considered). R&D has been called by everyone an investment in our future. ARPANET (the genesis of the Internet, no matter what Algore says) was military spending. Same for GPS. Defense I’m sure you’d agree is an essential spending mandate of the federal government. That much of what is called defense spending should be cut is another point I think we’d agree on.

  27. Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for future population concerns and global warming?

    One excellent solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the Frank Didik proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The Didik proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and lower global transportation costs.

    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed several billion more people, using presently available modern farming technologies. With the present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for several hundred years.

    Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 and his subsequent books, over the next 30 years, failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .

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