In 2010, Amtrak proposed to spend $117 billion to upgrade its Boston-to-Washington high-speed rail corridor. This idea was so unrealistically expensive that the Antiplanner called it “gold-plated high-speed rail.”
Apparently, Amtrak wants platinum plating instead, as its 2012 update to the proposal has raised the cost to $151 billion. This includes some additional bells and whistles, including a $7 billion revamp of Washington, DC’s Union Station (see Amtrak’s report for complete details).
Amtrak either hasn’t heard or doesn’t care that high-speed rail is dead (except for a train to nowhere in California) or that the federal government is about out of money. Instead, says Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, it wants to be “ready” in case someone accidentally drops $150 billion or so in its path.
“Look at the $400 million we got last year,” he told the New York Times. â€œWe already had a plan in place, so when it fell in our laps we were ready to go.” (Amtrak only got that money because Florida rejected the high-speed rail grant offered to it by the feds.)
It is one thing to be ready for $400 million. It is another to devote scarce resources to writing plans that would require more than $150 billion to implement. The sad thing is there are no doubt some members of Congress (not to mention a certain vice president) who think giving Amtrak $150 billion to blow on high-speed rail is a good thing.
Amtrak’s plans often mention congestion on highways between Boston and Washington. But (as Amtrak admits on page 4 of its 2010 plan) Amtrak only has a 6 percent share of traffic in this corridor, while buses have an 8 to 9 percent share and automobiles about 80 percent (the other 5 percent being air). This suggests improving bus service would do more to relieve congestion, while improving highways will do most of all. Amtrak is simply not going to capture enough riders to significantly reduce congestion.