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Argument: High-speed rail only works between close cities

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Supporting quotations

Samuel Staley. "The Pragmatic Case Against High-Speed Rail." Reason Foundation. June 22, 2009: "Certain preconditions are necessary for corridor transit to work, and they don't exist in the U.S. Most fundamentally, intercity rail needs to connect major urban downtowns or large employment centers that are close together--withing a couple hundred miles of each other. (In this respect, the emphasis on density per se is misplaced; the key is the density of the destinations.)

We simply don't have that many large downtowns in the U.S. We have several midsize metro areas, but the downtowns are mere shadows of their former selves and contain a very small minority of the region's job base. High-speed rail is doomed to failure under the best of circumstances because it simply can't generate ridership. Spain and Europe is an interesting case in point: high-speed rail connects very large urban centers with populations in the millions that are closely connected as the "bird flies": London-Paris, Paris-Brussels, Paris-Lyon, Hamburg-Berlin, Florence-Rome, Madrid-Barcelona. Many of these cities are also very large: London and Paris both boast populations greater than 10 million. Rome, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona have populations between 2 million and 5 million.

In the U.S., Chicago is a metro area of close to 10 million, and its downtown population is about 500,000, but Detroit's entire city is below 900,000 and Cleveland's citywide population is below 500,000. The U.S. has very few corridors that fit the criteria necessary to sustain serious and viable high-speed rail. So, ideology aside, a national network of high-speed rail simply doesn't make sense.

In theory, a corridor linking Chicago and Detroit might make sense (or Los Angeles and San Francisco, or Boston and Washington, D.C.), but the value of this service should be evident in consumer demand--ridership at high enough levels to pay for itself. We should also remember that while fiscal objections are legitimate ones, few would object to these proposals if they paid their way. If users are willing to pay for the benefit they receive, I doubt we would see much resistance anywhere."

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