Florida Gov. Rick Scott is under attack for rejecting $2.4 billion for the proposed Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project. Scott expressed concern about potential cost overruns and inflated ridership projections. In a statement, Scott said:
Historical data shows capital cost overruns are pervasive in 9 out of 10 high speed rail projects and that 2/3 of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage.
I attended a workshop on the future of high-speed rail at the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference. The presenters underscored the importance of managing expectations: high-speed rail is not a stand-alone economic development tool. One speaker observed:
You have to connect people to people. You need density. You can't connect nothing to nowhere.
I love riding Amtrak, as well as regional and light rail. I have been a member of Amtrak Guest Rewards since its inception. Also, I spent a lot of time in the Orlando region visiting my mentor. It seems to me the Tampa-Orlando corridor lacks the population density and center city-to-center city business districts required to make high-speed rail feasible.
The National Committee for America 2050 released a study of “corridors in America that are most appropriate for high-speed rail service.” The report listed the top 50 city pairs. Tampa-Orlando did not make the grade.
Sure, a lot of people live along Interstate 4, but a lot of them are retired. Residents and visitors to the region generally do not have the mindset to abandon their cars. As a practical matter, how would they get around once they left the train station? I know firsthand that public transportation is not reliable. Besides, there's a stigma attached to riding the bus.
The Washington Post editorialized that high-speed rail is a “lost cause”:
When it comes to high-speed rail, Europe, Japan and Taiwan have two natural advantages over every region of the United States, with the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor - high gas taxes and high population density. If high-speed rail turned into a money pit under relatively favorable circumstances, imagine the subsidies it would require here. Every dollar spent to subsidize high-speed rail is a dollar that cannot be spent modernizing highways, expanding the freight rail system or creating private-sector jobs. The Obama administration insists we dare not lag the rest of the world in high-speed rail. Actually, this is a race everyone loses.