Michael Barone

Or consider the $1.1 billion track improvement on the Chicago-St. Louis line in Illinois. It would reduce travel time between the cities by 48 minutes, but the trip would still take over four and a half hours at an average speed of 62 miles per hour.

None of these high-speed projects are really high-speed. Japan has bullet trains that average 171 miles per hour, France's TGV averages 149 miles per hour. At such speeds you can travel faster door-to-door by train than by plane over distances up to 500 miles.

In contrast, Amtrak's Acela from Baltimore to Washington averages 84 miles per hour and the Orlando-Tampa train would average 101 miles per hour. That makes the train uncompetitive with planes on trips more than 300 miles.

Now take a look at your map and see how many major metro areas with densely concentrated central business districts and large numbers of business travelers are within 300 miles of each other.

The answer is not very many outside of the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. Our geography is different from France's or Japan's.

Moreover, to achieve the speed of French and Japanese high-speed rail, you need dedicated track so you don't have to slow down for freight trains. To get dedicated track, you need a central government that is willing and able to ignore environmental protests and not-in-my-backyard activists. Japan and France have such governments. We don't.

So we are spending billions on high-speed rail that isn't really high speed, that will serve largely affluent business travelers and that will need taxpayer subsidies forever. This should be a no-brainer for a Congress bent on cutting spending.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM