What is the Cost of NOT Investing in High-Speed Rail?

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A new report released this week by the American Public Transportation Association entitled, "Opportunity Cost of Inaction: High-Speed Rail and High Performance Passenger Rail Service," addresses just that question: what does the U.S. stand to lose, both in terms of costs incurred and benefits forgone, by not investing in high-speed rail between its largest metropolitan areas? APTA's report concludes that the stakes are indeed high - on the order of tens of billions of dollars.

The report analyzes the amount of money that would need to be spent in order to increase the capacity of existing air and highway infrastructure if high-performance passenger rail investments are not made. High-performance passenger rail, the report says, is "intercity passenger rail that is highly integrated with other transportation services" so that travel times are competitive with other intercity modes. This includes, but is not limited to fully-dedicated high-speed rail.

Looking at four of the nation's largest megaregions - the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, California, and Chicago Hub Cities - the report assesses the savings that investing in high performance rail would provide in expanding air and highway capacities, as well as the potential benefits to economic development and public transportation over the next 40 years. Establishing that full investment in high performance rail in these megaregions, including high-speed rail in the Northeast and California, can provide annual economic benefits of around $661 million in today's dollars, the report concludes that inaction, or sitting on our haunches as our highways and air space become increasingly congested, would cost the nation at least $26.4 billion over the next 40 years in foregone savings and foregone economic benefits.

The report also discusses social and environmental costs of inaction on rail issues, but does not quantify the cost of foregone savings in those realms; thus, the report's figure of $26.4 billion is a conservative estimate.

At the heart of the report's findings is a powerful rebuttal to the accusations that the nation cannot afford high-speed rail. On the contrary, this new report shows that failing to invest in high-speed rail in our rapidly-growing megaregions will prove very costly as time goes on.

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Imagine then if the US implemented Transrapid's maglev train tech on a large scale, the benefits would be at least double that of regular wheel-on-rail high speed train tech. Maglev trains would half the travel time compared to wheel-on-rail high speed train, while also being much cheaper in energy, personell cost and general maintenance. All this without costing more to build, and also being derailment risk free. Imagine traveling by maglev train from New York to Washington D.C. in less than 1 hour! Imagine traveling by maglev train from Los Angeles to San Fransisco in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes! Imagine traveling by maglev train from Orlando to Miami in less than 50 minutes. Imagine traveling by maglev train from Cleveland to Chicago in less than 1 hour and 15 minutes! Even if you were traveling a longer distance, say from New York to Los Angeles the travel time would still be less than 11 hours. Since the Transrapid also carries container goods imagine how fast you could get deliveries.