A Tough Week for High Speed Rail

The week ended April 16 was particularly difficult for high speed rail, as the following events illustrate.

1. High Speed Rail Zeroed Out of US Budget: The US federal budget deal, which cut $38 billion from spending ($76 billion annualized) zeroed out the $2.5 billion 2011 budget allocation for high speed rail and $400 million of prior spending authority from President Obama's "stimulus" program, that had provided $8 billion for high speed rail in 2009. Approximately $2 billion of that authority remains and applications total $10 billion, mostly for conventional intercity rail services, rather than genuine high speed rail service.

2.  Missouri Legislators Block High Speed Rail: Members of the Senate Transportation Committee in Missouri refused to place high speed rail in the annual state budget. Governor Jay Nixon is seeking more than $1 billion for intercity out of the remaining $2 billion from the original Obama Administration $8 billion program. Governor Nixon indicates that he will try to get the money placed in the budget should the US Department of Transportation award a grant. Missouri joins Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio in taking actions to block funding for high speed rail projects. This reluctance is principally the result of concerns that high speed rail will incur significant cost overruns and require operating subsidies, all of which would have to be paid for by the states, which generally face serious financial difficulties.

3. China Slows Down Trains: Safety, energy conservation and fare equity issues led the Ministry of Railways to announce a slow-down of its fastest trains to a maximum speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour). This could add materially to travel times, especially in the longer corridors being developed, which traverse the greatest distance of any in the world (such as Shanghai-Kunming, Shanghai-Beijing and Beijing-Hong Kong).

4. Opposition to Britain's HS2 Line Intensifies: Opposition continues to mount against Britain's HS2 line from London to Manchester and Leeds. Protesters showed up at a Department of Transport event at Northampton Station intended to obtain views on the government's plans. Lizzy Williams, chair of "Stop HS2" expressed concern that the government's "consultation" was not objective and told only one side of the story, ignoring the difficulties (A video of Ms. Williams at an anti-HS2 convention is here). Opposition groups also plan a rally on May 8. Finally, it was reported that projected time savings on the line have been exaggerated by the government.