Bullet train

Courtesy of my roommate David Gasser (who has a great legal blog of his own), I read the NYTimes Economix blog–part 1 of 3–on the value of high speed rail, by Edward Glaeser.  Unlike Professor Glaeser, I do not teach at Harvard and I do not have a Ph.D. in economics from Chicago.  While Glaeser is owed the benefit of the doubt until parts 2 and 3 are revealed, I want to go over some of the value he may not be calculating.

  • Fewer cars on the road
  • Energy efficiency in transportation
  • The cost of having to repair roads less frequently if there is less use
  • The environmental value of using a means of transportation that can rely on cleaner electricity rather than biofuels
  • Potential savings in time for those commuting and the value to business of getting work done while traveling
  • The realization that vehicle transportation is subsidized by the government and always has been, and that must be taken into account when creating comparisons
  • The fact that railroads take up less space than normal roads, especially interstate highways
  • If trains bring populations back closer to the urban core, that is more efficient in many ways

Now, I admit that not all high speed rail lines are created equal, and that some places are likely to have greater economic efficiency than others.  Hopefully those with the purse strings realize that too and build and/or upgrade lines in places where ridership will be highest and construction costs will be relatively low.  California is the clear example of where to build based on potential ridership.