Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A fallacy in the pro-high speed rail argument

Picked this up today from Kuffer while catching up on things I missed while in Vegas....

Financing the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail Line, Charles Kuffner, Off the Kuff

Dallas and Houston are just far enough apart to make the drive unpleasant and inconvenient, but once you factor getting to and from the airport and going through security, there’s not much gained by flying. That’s the main reason why a high speed train connection has always made sense.

This assumes, of course, that there won't be security checks (there will, possibly with Metro PD playing the role of TSA in Houston *shudder*) or travel time to a train station.  The station, if Metro and others have their way, will surely be located to connect to the "transit backbone" of Houston.  That would put it somewhere downtown.  What that means is that it will be a difficult commute (especially during rush hour) for the roughly 80% of "Houston area" residents that reside outside the Loop, parking will be a disaster, and the whole logistics of the thing will be impossible.

I also take the opposite stance of Kuffer and others that the terminus should be located far away from the two major airports in each city.  From airport to airport would be the least worst option for a build.  Riders would then have the option to catch a flight, rent a car, take a cab, or a hotel shuttle to various locations in each city*. Locating withing the city centers would increase reliance on Metro and DART to get people where they want to be.  That's not to bad in Dallas but, with Houston Metro, it's a disaster waiting to happen. Another likely scenario, given the current political attitude, is that the terminus in Houston be located at Hobby.  That would be an even worse disaster. I understand the MetroRail/anti-United public viewpoints right now, I just don't think they should be the basis for financial decisions that are going to affect the region for years to come.

All that being said, the train itself is an unneeded, very expensive waste of money that doesn't need to be built at all. It's another solution looking for a problem.  It's only real draw is that it resembles something on TV that a certain group of people think symbolizes world class.  It's a shiny bauble that would serve no real transportation need at great expense to taxpayers.

Because of this, I'd give it a 50/50 chance of being built. Given the business sense of Houston's current "leadership" I'd say it's a cool 100% that Houston will buy into the financing in some shape or form. If the Parker regime has anything to say about it Houston will buy in with the least favorable terms possible.

If built, once the newness wears off, I predict less than 25% occupancy on most routes within a year.

*Not that "catch a flight" would offer much in the way of cost savings, but it could be a viable third option for route planning.  A rarely used third option however because the DFW/IAH ticket difference would have to be considerable for a train connection to make sense. I don't see that happening more than a handful of times, but it COULD happen.  The main reason for locating each terminus at the airports is because the continuing travel infrastructure is already in place.

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