Tuesday, February 8, 2011

John Whitelegg on High Speed Rail

John Whitelegg of the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute has a piece in World Streets on high speed rail (HSR) where he explains the limitations of the technology for Britain. Everything he says about the UK experience applies to the US, except the US doesn't have broad political support across party lines. Even though Whitelegg ignores operating costs in this post, he brings up opportunity costs which are almost never discussed in the context of HSR though should be. He sums up my opposition to HSR in these quotes:
HSR is used by relatively wealthy, high income passengers and the £32 billion would represent a public investment from all tax payers (Note 1) aimed at encouraging wealthy individuals to travel to and from London more often and at a higher speed. This is not a good use of public funds and in any prioritisation exercise would come very low down the list and far below sorting out local travel in all cities, a world beating walking and cycling environment in every British city that can deliver the Freiburg results (Note 2) and inter-regional train improvements travel not involving a trip to London...

We have a question for all the citizens in the UK worried about pensions, energy bills, care for the elderly, school budgets, death and injury on the roads, respiratory disease associated with vehicle exhaust emissions and a future likely to involve severe risks associated with climate change and fuel price increases. Hands up all those in favour of providing a £32 billion subsidy from the tax payer for very rich people to travel very quickly to London quite a lot and then hands up all those who would like a safe, secure, high quality of life for everyone in every city using the same cash?

Read Whitelegg's post for additional explanations why the claimed environmental benefits are unlikely to come to pass and why travel time savings are a lousy policy goal.

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