Arizona Shuttle offers 19 buses a day between Tucson and Phoenix. Greyhound offers at least eight. But that’s not good enough for some people, so the state is spending $6.3 million studying the idea of running passenger trains between the two cities.
The state’s first guess is that the start-up cost would be a mere $1 billion. Phoenix and Tucson are about the same distance from one another as San Diego and Los Angeles, where Amtrak runs something like 11 trains per day. Of course, those trains run just 35 percent full despite the fact that they serve urban areas whose combined populations are four times greater than Phoenix and Tucson.
To make the case for rail, the state is spreading scare stories about how bad congestion will be in 2050. Of course, trains won’t do anything about that congestion, since so few people will ride them. Given that most cars on the road in 2050 are likely to be driving themselves, congestion will probably be a lot less than today even if the region’s population doubles, as planners forecast.
Arizona is not the only state wasting taxpayers’ money on such schemes. Texas DOT is spending $14 million studying a high-speed rail line from San Antonio to Oklahoma City. Considering the quality of studies done for other states (the first studies for California’s high-speed rail project estimated a cost of $15 billion; current estimates are more than $115 billion), Arizona and Texas would do better to put their millions of dollars in the bank, collect interest, and then use the money twenty years from now to do things that will actually relieve congestion.