Ed Driscoll

The Desire Named Streetcar on Megasteroids

Michael Barone writes that “the U.S. Transportation Department is dangling money before the government of Iowa seeking matching funds from the state for a high-speed rail line from Iowa City to Chicago. The ‘high-speed’ trains would average 45 miles per hour and take five hours to reach Chicago from Iowa City:”

Oh, one other thing. Cox reports that there is already luxury bus service, with plus for laptops and wireless Internet, from Iowa City to Chicago. It’s part of a larger trend for private companies to offer convenient and inexpensive bus service. A one-way ticket on the bus costs $18, compared to a likely train fare of more than $50. And the bus takes only three hours and 50 minutes to get from Iowa City to Chicago. That’s one hour and 10 minutes faster than the “high-speed” train.

So let’s get this straight. The progressive, modern, “win the future” high-speed rail, which would cost the taxpayers of Iowa millions, would be slower than existing bus service and would cost more. Why ever would Iowa want to spend one dime on this project?

Oh, that’s an easy one. Back in 2006, the Cato Institute explored why so many cities build out the mammoth infrastructure for light-rail trains and then wonder why they’re half-empty, rather than buy more busses, whose routes are much more flexible, and can use a city’s existing roadways. Just scale up “the desire named streetcar” and you can see why “high-speed” rail is equally desirable:

A transit agency that expands its bus fleet gets the support of the transit operators union. But an agency that builds a rail line gets the support of construction companies, construction unions, banks and bond dealers, railcar manufacturers, electric power companies (if the railcars are electric powered), downtown property owners, and other real estate interests. Rail may be a negative-sum game for the region as a whole, but those concentrated interests stand to gain a lot at a relatively small expense to everyone else.

And besides, all those roads give consumers too many choices. Best to simply things down to one slow “high-speed” train to Iowa City.

Besides, it’s ever so European, you know.

Related: On the other hand, at least the trains leaving Chicago provide one benefit — they make it that much easier to buy a one-way ticket and escape the city’s onerous business climate. Or as Investor’s Business Daily ponders,  “Will The Chicago Merc Flee Illinois Taxes?”