The High-Speed Rail Myth

The High-Speed Rail Myth
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Proponents of the “Green New Deal” have called it ambitious and visionary, comparing it to putting a man on the moon. They cast this extreme, unworkable plan as forward thinking, even futuristic.

The opposite is true. From its rosy portrayal of socialist policies like a government takeover of healthcare to its calls to bring back mid-20th century labor policies, the “Green New Deal” is the most backwards-looking plan the left has put forward in decades. It harkens back to the past and imagines a world without a dynamic, capitalist American economy with a world-class energy sector.

The clearest example of the Green New Deal’s backwards-looking vision is its adoration of rail travel. The plan envisions massive investments in “high-speed rail,” and one document released by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office even brought up the idea of eliminating air travel. This is a shocking reversal of modern progress, as it yearns for the days before air travel put slow trains out of business.

No doubt we are a nation of builders. From the highway system, airports, dams, bridges, and skyscrapers, America has always been building impressive structure. So, why not a national high-speed rail system? Is it a lack of ambition and a lack of faith in the American spirit?

No. For a country as spread-out as ours, “high-speed rail” does not make economical sense as an alternative to faster air travel. The rail systems we already have are failing. Now is not the time to build more boondoggles.

New York City has one of the largest subways in the world. Today it faces close to a $244 million budget shortfall and last year trains were on time only 58% of the time. The subway is controlled by the larger Metropolitan Transportation Authority, an agency with close to 75,000 employees and a $16 billion budget. Despite the enormous budget, the agency is expected to have $1 billion in debt by 2022 and has been in a “state of emergency” for more than 18 months.

Washington D.C.’s metro system is running an even larger deficit of $290 million. Despite the multiyear campaign to cut staff and get “Back2Good,” ridership is not returning. The number one demographic abandoning DC metro: millennials, who prefer the door-to-door service of ridesharing.

Newly inaugurated California Gov. Gavin Newsom just suspended his predecessors’ dream of high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. After ten years of construction, the progressive pipedream was projected to cost over $90 billion and not be completed until 2033. If a 400-mile stretch cannot come in remotely on time and at budget, one wonders how the “Green New Deal” could possibly implement this nationwide.

Our current trans-America train system, Amtrak, had its most successful fiscal year in decades, yet still ran a $168 million loss.

Every day in America, state, local, and federal money is wasted trying to prop up a failing transit systems. Politicians often justify these projects as “green” and as “job creators.” It’s a smokescreen. 

They promise “green” jobs as far as the eye can see, but government is terrible at picking winners and losers and usually wastes our money. The previous administration spent tens of billions of dollars pushing “green” jobs yet the results are hard to quantify. This does not include $2.2 billion in green loan guarantee losses from companies like Solyndra.

The “Green New Deal” promises to do this on an even larger scale. In addition to promising new “green” jobs that will likely never exist, the plan aims to eliminate the millions of good-paying jobs in the energy industry through the elimination of fossil fuels. The energy industry in Texas, for instance, supports over 352,000 jobs that pay on average over $130,000. The “Green New Deal” would eliminate these jobs and replace them with fantasy “green” ones.

This is not progress. We know how this story ends, and it’s why we must resist the nostalgic impulse to spend taxpayer dollars on “green” projects we know will fail. 

Daniel Turner is the Executive Director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Follow him on Twitter @DanielTurnerPTF

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