8.26.2009

Krugman and Samuelson on High Speed Rail


Apparently, Robert Samuelson doesn't like high-speed rail (HSR), and Paul Krugman thinks Samuelson is wrong. Leaving aside Krugman's unwarranted use of words like "dense" and "stupid," my own opinion is somewhere in between:

* Krugman is right in that HSR proposals aren't saying we should link up the whole country, just the heavily populated metros to each other, so Samuelson's stats about America's overall population density aren't the right ones to use.

* But Samuelson is right to say HSR is easier to do in Europe and Japan because these are relatively small countries, unlike the vastness of America. (It's one of the reasons the Brits in the British American Project organization I'm part of are so much more well-connected with each other than us Americans; if you were to pick just Americans living in the Northeast Corridor, we'd be just as connected.)

I've voiced my skepticism about HSR in a previous post so won't rehash too much here. Outside the Northeast Corridor, maybe it makes sense if you're a businessperson and you're doing a lot of downtown-to-downtown travel, or maybe you're a business or leisure traveler thinking that a 1-hour plane ride isn't as convenient as a 6-hour train ride. Apart from those two populations, I just don't see enough volume to make HSR possible without massive subsidies way above what Amtrak is currently getting. But I'll admit I don't know the whole story here and it could turn out that I'm the one who's "dense" and "stupid."

PS Ed Glaeser is skeptical, too.
Post a Comment