The best available data indicate that the FRA plan would cost about $90 billion, or roughly one fifth the inflation-adjusted cost of the Interstate Highway System. This plan would provide trains with average speeds of 140/150 miles per hour (mph) in California, 75/85 mph in Florida, and moderate-speed trains averaging 55/75 mph in Missouri and 30 other states.

The average American would ride these trains less than 60 miles per year, or about one seventieth as much as the average American travels on interstate freeways. In fact, most of the taxpayers who pay for high-speed trains would rarely, if ever, use them. Because of a premium fare structure and downtown orientation, the main patrons of high-speed trains would be the wealthy and downtown workers, such as bankers, lawyers, and government officials, whose employers pay the fare.

A true high-speed rail system, with average speeds of 140/150 mph connecting major cities in 33 states, would cost well over $500 billion. Meeting political demands to close gaps in the system could bring the cost close to $1 trillion. At twice the cost of the Interstate Highway System, such a true high-speed rail system would provide less than one tenth the mobility offered by the interstates.

These costs include only the projected capital costs. If Missouri decides to build moderate- or high-speed rail, it may be responsible for cost overruns, operating losses, and the costs of replacing and rehabilitating equipment about every 30 years.

Upgrading the 250 miles of Missouri tracks in the FRA plan to run trains at 110 mph would cost taxpayers at least $875 million, or nearly $150 for every Missouri man, woman and child. Subsidizing passenger trains over those routes would cost millions more per year, yet the typical Missourian would take a round trip on such trains only once every six years.

Far from being environmental saviors, high- and moderate-speed trains are likely to do more harm to the environment than good. In intercity travel, automobiles are already as energy efficient as Amtrak, and the energy efficiencies of both autos and airliners are growing faster than trains. The energy cost of constructing new high-speed rail lines would dwarf any operational savings. As the state of Florida concluded in 2005, the environmentally preferred alternative is the No Build Alternative.

To add insult to injury, the administration is likely to require states that accept high-speed rail funds to regulate property rights in a futile effort to discourage driving and promote rail travel. These regulations would deny rural landowners the right to develop their land while they make urban housing unaffordable and disrupt neighborhoods through the construction of high-density housing.

A recent study for the Missouri Department of Transportation identified several enhancements to the current Amtrak route connecting Kansas City and Saint Louis that could significantly improve the current rail service between the cities for substantially less cost than the high-speed rail proposal.

For all of these reasons — high costs, tiny benefits, and interference with property rights Missouri taxpayers would not be well-served by the government's provision of high-speed passenger rail service. A better plan would be to use the state's share of the $8 billion stimulus funds solely for incremental upgrades, such as safer grade crossings, longer track sidings, and signaling systems, that do not obligate state taxpayers to pay future operations and maintenance costs.



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Randal O'Toole