As Detroit enters bankruptcy, an Indiana rail passenger group frets that its state hasn’t wasted enough money on pipe dreams. So it is publicizing a so-called feasibility study for a high-speed rail line from Columbus to Chicago. The study proposes to spend $1.3 billion improving CSX tracks to run trains at 110 to 130 mph, resulting in a Chicago-Columbus trip as short as 3-3/4 hours, or an average speed of about 80 mph.
I say “so-called” feasibility study because it seems like a real feasibility study would take the trouble of asking if it were feasible to operate passenger trains at 110 mph on the same tracks as freight trains when CSX, which owns the track, says 90 mph is the fastest it will allow passenger trains on its tracks “unless freight and passenger traffic were separated.” The study calls for running 24 trains a day (12 each way), which is probably more than CSX wants even at 90 mph.
The feasibility study ignores these limits and simply assumes 130 mph is possible. Everything that follows is just as speculative and unrealistic.
Why, for example, is an Indiana group supporting a train that misses the state’s major metropolitan area in favor of the relatively small towns of Plymouth, Valparaiso, and Warsaw? The only major urban area in Indiana served by the proposed train, other than Gary (which already had plenty of train service to Chicago) is Ft. Wayne, whose population is barely a fifth of Indianapolis’.
If the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association is so proud of this study, why is it only being released now when it is dated January 2013? And why is only the executive summary on line, not the full study? There may be good answers to these questions, but I find it suspicious when other results reported by the summery seem fabricated and unrealistic.
For example, the study projects 2.1 million riders per year in 2020 rising to 2.7 million by 2030, which is supposed to be enough to cover $140 million in operating costs. That’s about 250 riders per train each paying an average of $56 a ride, considerably more than Megabus which is admittedly slower than 80 mph.
The biggest problem, however, is there is no evidence that the consultants who prepared this study ever bothered to contact CSX to see how it felt about 24 trains a day running 20 mph faster than it considers safe. This willingness to ignore the desires of private property owners pervades the progressive movement.
One answer to these questions may be found in a recent paper by Bent Flyvberg, who says that planners respond to “uncomfortable information” by denial and diversion. What? You won’t let trains run faster than 90 mph? Oh, look at all the development we might get (if we subsidize it) around the train stations, especially if we funnel the subsidies and construction contracts to politically powerful contractors and developers!