My friend Greg Moran alerted me to this article in the Wall Street Journal concerning state grant applications for part of the federal high speed rail funding from the Federal Railroad Administration. While reading this I couldn’t help but wonder about how much planned high speed rail tickets in various parts of the country may cost. Will rail be competitive with the cost of airplane tickets? Will tickets be subsidized? If so, by how much? Will high speed rail be cheap enough to be bought by students, blue collar workers or white collar business travelers only? Will high speed rail connect business communities only or schools, think tanks, families and contractors as well?
Picking a random day, a month from now September 25th, Amtrak tickets on the Northeast Corridor traveling from South Station Boston to Washington DC start at $65 and $149 for the Acela. This is rather incredible given that you can fly the same route on weekdays for $120 according to bing.com. Moreover, the flight is only 80 minutes, compared to 6 hours and 46 minutes on the acela. Clearly Acela is a faulty example, because it is not really high speed rail, just higher speed rail. One last comparison, AAA estimates that it will cost $82.60 (plus tolls) to drive that distance.
My point is that as states apply for funding to build high speed rail or improve their rail lines I want to know where future subsidies are coming from to keep the cost of travel on rail down. In order for high speed rail to be competitive it must not only be fast and comfortable, it must be relatively cheap. I wish the best of luck to all those who have applied for funding and are in the planning and construction phases. I sincerely hope that rail is an option for all Americans, not merely those traveling on corporate accounts.