By Matthew Falconer
As multi-national corporations spend millions to promote a high speed rail network in the United States, the public is being fed a steady stream of half truths and outright lies about the project.
The biggest lie of course is the money for the project is coming from the Federal government.
We cannot ignore the fact the Federal government is broke and every penny they send us increases our national debt we are leaving to our children. Florida will be on the hook for at least $300 million plus cost overruns. It is typical for rail projects to go over budget by 50%, which can add billions to the cost paid by the Florida taxpayer.
The next lie being thrown around is that private contractors will pay for Florida’s share of the cost and cover operating expenses. If you read the documents, the private contractors are proposing to lend us $300 million which we will pay back with interest. They are not giving us the money. The multi-national for profit companies propose to enter a “revenue sharing” agreement, which will obligate the taxpayers of Florida to pay for operating losses.
It is a very crafty way to hide the fact the Florida taxpayers will be on the hook for billions of dollars in construction costs and operating losses.
The ridership projections are somewhere between a half truth and a lie. The proponents of high speed rail suggest 2.5 million people will use the system the first year despite the fact that only 150,000 people take the bus between Orlando and Tampa every year.
They claim 95% of the riders will leave their cars to use the train. Let me use my last trip to Tampa to test the validity of their claim;
I drove from Orlando to Tampa at 5 p.m. and arrived one hour and ten minutes later at my destination (cost $6 in gas). If I took the train, I would need to drive to a station (airport or convention center), 15 minutes, pay to park ($8), wait for the train, 20 minutes, take the train to Tampa ($30), 45 minutes, and then take a cab to my destination ($25), 20 minutes. Round trip my car takes 2:30 minutes and costs $12 while the train takes 3:20 minutes and costs $126. If I take my family the car still cost $12 but the train costs are $306.
For a tourist the train makes even less sense. They would need to take a cab to the train, wait for the train, ride the train, and take a cab from downtown Tampa to their destination many miles away (and it will cost $300 versus a rental car at $50 per day). Florida just does not have the same geographic density patterns they have in Europe to make trains effective.
Rail supporters suggest government spending creates jobs, but they are only looking at half of the equation. When government taxes or borrows money they are taking it out of the private sector economy. Government stimulus is at best a zero sum game. They take a dollar out of the economy and they pump it back in. But when we take money out of the private sector and place that money in the hands of government we are actually losing jobs because the private sector invests its money more efficiently.
The proposed Florida high speed rail project is great if you are a multi-national train builder or a government contractor. But if you are a taxpayer or one of the people they think will use the train it is a black hole of time and money.