Coming Soon: Hi-Speed rail boondoggle

Let me just say that the idea of high speed rail is a good one. But the spending that is targeted in the stimulus bill is pork:

Railroads made Chicago, and now a Chicago-rich White House wants to return the favor: remaking rail with a huge new federal investment in high-speed passenger trains.

The $787.2 billion economic recovery bill — to be signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday — dedicates $8 billion to high-speed rail, most of which was added in the final closed-door bargaining at the instigation of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

It’s a sum that far surpasses anything before attempted in the United States — and more is coming. Administration officials told Politico that when Obama outlines his 2010 budget next week, it will ask for $1 billion more for high-speed rail in each of the next five years.

Yet for all the high stakes, the pieces didn’t fall into place until the end of deliberations on the recovery bill. And the way in which they did is revealing of the often late-breaking decisions — and politics — that shaped the final package.

With Amtrak never having made a dime, the need for another government funded rail line would be inexplicable except to a liberal. I return to the famous question asked about government spending in the movie "Contact" by H.R. Haddon:

Why have one when you can have two at twice the price?

The only place where high speed rail would have the possibility of being profitable are some of the northeast routes; New York to Boston and Philadelphia and perhaps Washington to Philly and New York to Washington. And insurance for rail companies would be through the roof (high speed train accidents are much more likely to cause massive death and injury)

The capital outlay is enormous - just for those few routes. (Note that all are in Democratic states). There is much to be said for high speed rail although as an alternative to air travel, it will only happen if flying becomes prohibitively expensive. In the meantime, most of the country will never see high speed rail unless it is - like Amtrak - government funded.

If we're going to subsidize travel, why not the airlines? Because there are more union workers in the Northeast who would benefit by high speed rail funding by the government.

And you can bet if there's a way for Chicago to get in on the feeding, Daley will find a way.