What Does High-Speed Rail Accomplish?

Posted: Jan 25, 2011 11:13 PM
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for  building an accessible high-speed rail.
"Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying - without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway."
Who is going to use it? As Randal O'Toole points out, it will be a slightly faster version of Amtrak. Some people might use it instead of flying, but it won't take cars off the road or make transportation more accessible to poor people. It will do tangible damage to the environment, however.

High speed rail, the president notes, is also supposed to create jobs. This reminds me of Milton Friedman's comments on government 'job creation':
"At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: 'You don't understand. This is a jobs program.' To which Milton replied: 'Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.'"
It would be more productive to dig holes and then fill them in again.