APTA: How to Talk to a Detractor of High-Speed Rail

Stop me if you’ve heard these before:

Stephen Harrod, Assistant Professor at the University of Dayton, quoted in a recent APTA report. Image: ##http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/HSR-Defense.pdf##APTA##

“Most Americans don’t use railroads, they use cars.”

“There’s no better example of excessive government spending than the $53 billion President Obama allocated for high-speed rail in his 2012 budget.”

“Would you pay $1,000 so that someone — probably not you — can ride high-speed trains 58 miles a year?”

“High-speed rail may be feasible in parts of Europe or Japan, where the population density is much higher, but without enough people packed into a given space, there will never be enough riders to repay the cost of building and maintaining a high-speed rail system.”

Critics of federal initiatives to promote high-speed rail have launched these attacks with great frequency over the past few years. Their targets have been projects in Florida, Wisconsin, California, or even federal regulators and Secretary Ray LaHood. But their primary intended audience was the American people, and, according to the American Public Transportation Association, there has been a “well-oiled campaign” (pun probably intended) to make sure their message was repeated, and loudly.

APTA is trying to unplug that propaganda machine with its new “Inventory of the Criticisms of High-Speed Rail With Suggested Responses and Counterpoints” [PDF]. It methodically lists no fewer than 37 specific objections to pursuing high-speed rail (grouped thematically into eight chapters) and exposes them for “lack of veracity and vision.” The four critiques quoted above (the first two from Diana Furchtgott-Roth in the Washington Examiner, the third from CATO’s Randall O’Toole and the last from Thomas Sowell in The Albany Herald), barely scratch the surface of the anti-HSR literature addressed by the report.

The aim of the report is to give HSR supporters a way to return fire when detractors say things like:

  • High-speed rail is too expensive and will never be profitable. APTA says the question of profit is “dangerously misleading and irrelevant” since “the economic value generated by passenger transportation historically is captured by the businesses served by the transportation network, not by the carriers.”
  • It doesn’t have broad enough support. On the contrary, says APTA: Even the Congressional leaders who have been the most critical of the Obama administration’s allocation of rail funds “have set about finding creative ways of financing the initiative in the hope of encouraging greater private-sector support and leadership.”
  • HSR might work elsewhere, but it won’t work in the U.S. Oh really? Sure, intercity passenger rail currently serves “the smallest share of riders among all modes of passenger transportation,” says APTA. But that’s changing. “In the Northeast Corridor, intercity trains enjoy a market share almost equal to the airlines, and nationally, ridership on Amtrak is at an all-time high.”

Many of the debunked criticisms point to some combination of unrecoverable cost and only marginal benefits, with the assumption that taxpayers will be on the hook for costs and that benefits will be confined to a select few. Not so: APTA cites ample evidence that high-speed passenger rail could be capable of operating profits and wide-ranging benefits.

Beyond reiterating HSR’s many merits, the report exposes the double standard so frequently invoked in the HSR debate: that of government subsidization. What is it that makes HSR off-limits for government spending, while the construction and maintenance of the interstate highway system was undertaken at such great federal expense? The truth, as the report points out, is that one would be hard pressed to find a mode of transportation that isn’t subsidized in some way.

And it makes sense, because railroads, highways, airports, and even sidewalks are all parts of a much larger transportation system that enables society to function and grow. “What proponents are arguing is that the nation needs a more balanced use of all three modes,” the report reads, “Particularly… where airports and highways have become so congested that long delays and lost productivity are routine.”

A 2011 Univ. of Penn. report points out lopsided federal spending among transport modes. Image: ##http://www.design.upenn.edu/hsr2011##PennDesign##

Population growth and the anticipated growth of urban areas is one primary argument for the urgency of high-speed rail. Last year, a team of Master’s students from the University of Pennsylvania (full disclosure: I was one of them) concluded that it wasn’t enough to simply debunk the critics. It may be better to craft a new high-speed rail message that can stand on its own.

That message centered on this question of the changing economic geographies of the 21st century. Economic activity is coalescing into megaregions (or megapolises), and if economic and population growth is to continue at anticipated rates, those megaregions face very specific capacity constraints on core infrastructure systems, particularly transportation. In a debate filled with claims of skyrocketing costs, the Penn report concludes, “the highest cost would be the cost of doing nothing.”

Or, as Building America’s Future co-founder Ed Rendell said recently to an audience in Jacksonville, when it comes to infrastructure, “You can pay now, or you can pay later.”

  • I’ve only skimmed the APTA PDF but I like what I see. I’m sure you know that another good resource to counter these arguments from a politically conservative viewpoint (since it’s mostly conservatives who most ardently oppose HSR) is the book Moving Minds by William Lind and Paul Weyrich.  If you Google these names with “transit” you can find many of their essays on the topic online as well (some of them on APTA’s website).

  • I enjoyed reading this.  I think the main rhetorical hurdle is that the costs of high speed rail are never presented side-by-side with the costs of the alternatives.  It’s always pitches as rail vs. nothing.  Nothing, it turns out, is not an option.  It’s either rail or airports or freeways, and rail wins that comparison.

  • Guest

    Unfortunately for all of us, the HSR debate has too much propaganda on all sides.  I agree that Wendell Cox has little useful to say on this topic, but HSR proponents’ wishful thinking on project costs does an equally great disservice to efforts to improve intercity passenger rail in this country.

  • Joe R.

    I doesn’t help matters when HSR proponents misrepresent conventional rail as high-speed rail. The standard definition of HSR is speeds over 125 mph. I would imagine the general public would be pretty disappointed hearing tax dollars are being spent to build HSR, and then they see a diesel locomotive and conventional coaches should they decide to ride that pseudo high-speed line. I know the public would go for HSR big-time, but real HSR, with electrification and real “bullet” trains.

    This isn’t to say that sometimes incrementally increasing the speeds of conventional rail isn’t a good thing. That’s sorely needed as well, but just don’t call a 110 mph diesel train “HSR”. It isn’t. The end result will be disappointment on the part of the public, and a reluctance to spend more more on HSR.

    And yes, we definitely should show the costs of alternatives, including freeways, when presenting any HSR proposal. That also means showing the external costs of car travel which taxpayers ultimately end up paying for indirectly. If we do that, my guess is it would make more economic sense to let the Interstate Highway system crumble, and replace it with HSR.

  • Anonymous

    The HSR debate is a distraction from the fact that we have no plans to improve rail transportation in this country.  We don’t need high speed rail in 20 or 30 years, we need affordable reliable comfortable transport NOW that is not highway based.  If you are not a business person do you really need to fly along the ground and pay through the nose to do it?  Do you need to subsidize the ones that do need it?  Straighten and double track some lines, buy tilting trains, improve the stations and electrify.  Stop with the pie in the sky keeping up with the French, German and Spanish HSR projects.  Its not happening, just own up to that and get on with improving all public transit for us now.  Keeping this stupid fantasy alive is tantamount to DOING NOTHING.

  • Yes, heaven forbid we should build trains that run fast and on time.

  • What worries me most is our tendency to spend money on building megaprojects, but when it comes time for operation and maintenance the money isn’t there.  Unless we’re going to commit to a solid funding source for at least ~50 years there is no point in building anything.

    Americans are like a child at Christmas — we love our new toys, but we get bored with them quickly.

  • Ex-driver

    Cost aside, there is one good reason why high-speed rail will never be built in the US: NIMBY.  Out failure to control land use and preserve corridors means that no matter where you put the lines, a critical mass of suburbanites and exurbanites will be affected.  And they’ll scream bloody murder and get it stopped.  This is happening in CA as we speak.

  • Mister Bad Example

     I’d love high speed rail, but I’d settle for plain old vanilla rail that ran dependably and didn’t cost a fortune. A trip from NYC to Richmond, VA takes an extra half-hour because the train has to change engines in DC, where the electrified rail ends. it’s usually slower than a greyhound bus ride (there are always delays), and upwards of four times as expensive.

    That said, the most compelling argument about high speed rail is that there’s compelling evidence that commercial airliners can’t subsist once fuel prices tick north of $110 for a barrel of oil. during the 2008 run-up to $147 a barrel, the US was losing an air carrier A WEEK. Nobody in this country has a plan B for long travel if the airline business goes bust.

    Currently, the best argument against rail is that most US cities lack the connective transit links that make it possible to navigate to your destination once your train arrives. We’re going to need to fix that in any case, and soon.

  • carma

    Its not HSR vs. nothing.  the fact is that even if HSR is built, you STILL need to supplement with a system of roads.  so taking into assumption that building HSR is cheaper than the alternative is false.  if anything, japan and europe do have roads AND HSR.

    that is why building a HSR is expensive.  the two main costs in building a HSR are eminent domain takeovers and the high cost of union labor.  thats one reason why china was so able to get HSR built out as there is no such thing as private land ownership and the state easily grabbed land to build any rail it wants.  plus with labor being low in china, it was easily able to build out a HSR system.  (albeit a shoddy system that has shady safety)

    i too would love HSR in the us, after riding the shinkansen all over japan, but the reality is that the costs reaaaaally are high.  and what HSR proponents are building as Joe R has pointed out really isnt all that fast.  a true HSR goes much faster than 125mph.  what we are getting with our current HSR are juiced up diesels.  sure it will help, but it isnt HSR.

  • Reggie McPhee

    The U.S. will never have HSR. It’s a money-loser wherever it’s built, and it would be doubly so here, where we prefer private transportation on our excellent Interstate system (paid for by user fees in the form of gas taxes and not out of other people’s pockets). If we want to go long distances, we’ll take a plane, which are operated by many successful private companies and not as an arm of the bloated Federal government.

    Trains don’t fit the American spirit. Cars allow us personal freedom and control of our lives (I know this is hard for collectivists/statists to understand the importance of). The Republican party will stand up to this money-losing boondoggle and help kill it, so sorry railfans, HSR is DOA and Amtrak’s days are numbered. The bottom line is we have interstates and airplanes, we don’t need high speed choo-choos. Check out the excellent essays by Randal O’Toole and Joel Kotkin to see this truth about the socialist boondoggle of American HSR and Amtrak and why it’s a distraction from investing in the infrastructure of the future—highways.

  • Dan W.

    “Trains don’t fit the American spirit.”
    —————

    Conservative drivel.

  • What supporters of high-speed rail need is to face reality, not talking points. This project was poorly conceived and there never had a realistic estimate of costs or a source of money to even get it built. All that money would be better spent on existing infrastructure, not a luxury rail system for our economic elite.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2012/01/left-and-high-speed-rail.html

  • The US highway system has never turned a profit. Instead, it loses billions of dollars every year. Because the Federal gas tax has not been raised in any way since 1993, the highway system is not paid for out of user fees but rather is heavily subsidized by all US taxpayers, especially those who don’t own cars, who drive less than 10,000 miles per year or who mostly drive local surface streets. In addition, people with lightweight vehicles subsidize heavier weight vehicles such as trucks that damage to the road in far greater amounts than any fees collected. (From Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association website, truckers who drive 100,000 miles per year pay a little less than 2 cents a mile in any kind of tax total–that includes road, use, fuel, and federal. If our national road system were fully funded by user fees, heavily-laden trucks would pay well over 60 cents a mile.)

    If we look to a future 10 years out when all forms of liquid fuel will be quite costly, movement by electricity will be extremely valuable and any region or country that has invested in this infrastructure will have an enormous economic advantage. Those regions that continue to offer passenger and freight movement only via gasoline-powered internal combustion engines will be economic backwaters. As Chinese and Indian oil consumption continues to increase and world oil production continues to stagnate and then decline, eventually even the US will come around to the efficiency of rail. The danger is by then many regions just won’t have the money or credit available to build lines at all or to more than a few highly populated regions.

  • Charles

    @Reggie McPhee, did you even read the report that was included?  When you do read the report compare your talking points to what the report says.  Then tell us why the report is wrong.  Thanks!

  • Sprague

    Railroads built the American West and trains have a deep-rooted position in the American spirit.  Anti-rail politicians are doing their constituents a disservice by not investing in neglected transportation modes.  Just as 9/11 showed America, a diversity of transportation options is important.  Perhaps it is difficult to acknowledge from the driver’s seat, but having the choice to travel between cities by passenger rail is a great freedom.  It liberates the rider from the task of driving.  It frees the motorist from the seeming necessity to pollute the air inorder to cover groung between towns.  Developing efficient passenger rail expands the freedom to travel for all Americans.

  • On the other hand, passenger rail is no longer profitable in the US. Only freight rail is self-supporting and profitable, which is why Warren Buffett is invested in freight rail. US taxpayers subsidize Amtrak with a billion dollars every year. 

  • thinking reader

    Rob Anderson is right, passenger rail has no future in the US If it were profitable, private industry would invest in it. Please stop trying to shoehorn the US into a European model that doesn’t work here. Not everything that works overseas will work in the US. And for the price of the High Speed rail system that the government wants to build we could buy every American citizen a Rolls Royce. Hardly and effective use of funds, especially now, as the US is basically BROKE. Thanks, Rob, for telling it like it is!

  • “Rob Anderson is right.” Not a statement often seen on Streetsblog—or anywhere else, for that matter. Those of us in San Francisco would do well to turn our attention to our own poorly-conceived mega-project: the Central Subway, which is draining scarce transit money away from our chroniclally strapped transportation system.

  • BC

    High speed rail is not transit.  HSR is not even regional rail.  HSR does nothing for Cycling or Pedestrianization.  HSR does nothing for Livability.  HSR does look cool.  And my son wants to play with one.  But HSR is 100s of Billions of tax dollars that are not longer available for actual transformative transportation and livability progress.  Twenty Billion for bicycle infrastructure and pedestrianization would transform the country.  One Hundred Billion for HSR and what do you get?  Another way for a relatively few people to get from LA to San Fran.  The only lives that HSR will transform are those who will make money from it.  Why is StreetsBlog pushing high speed rail?

  • thinking reader

    BC, I actually oppose all rail projects. Rail is a relic of the past that we’re unfortunately stuck with in some cases. We should not be building any more passenger rail, subways, light rail, or especially HSR. The San Francisco Central Subway is a great example as to why. A waste of taxpayer money.

    I’m OK with buses operating on highways and already built city streets because they’re flexible and cheap (unlike BRT, which is a boondoggle), and routes and service can be cut back easily if financial times get tough, and I’m fine with bike trails provided no highway space or road financial resources are taken away to build or maintain them.

    I think we have pretty much the prefect urban model in the US now, and I don’t want to see it experimented on by some kind of ivory tower elite.

  • Dan W.

    “Rail is a relic of the past that we’re unfortunately stuck with in some
    cases. We should not be building any more passenger rail, subways, light
    rail, or especially HSR.”
    ————————–

    Thank goodness this is a tiny minority opinion and that Los Angeles’ rail system is expanding.

  • Joe R.

    @4139c9db1344d1e60d9c988e0cc08992:disqus Rail is far from a relic of the past. To date we have not found any way to transport goods or people using less energy than rail. It’s simple physics. A steel wheel on a steel rail has 1/10th of the drag of a rubber tire on asphalt for any given load. And putting vehicles in a train means the following vehicles can ride in the wake of the lead vehicle, further saving energy over highway-based travel.

    The big problem with our current transportation system, besides the fact that it’s based on fossil fuels, is that you need to jump through several major hoops in order to partake of it. First, you need to own a car. This is a very expensive proposition. And you need a driver’s license. Universal driver’s licenses mean very lax licensing standards, with the resulting road carnage we see every day. An aging population means eventually large numbers of people won’t be able to drive. And many people just have no desire to get a license or a car (more so nowadays as real incomes decline). Besides that, cars are not a great way to travel once you get past medium distances (say 50 miles). They’re cramped, require frequent average speed killing stops for rest and fuel, have a low cruising speed, and aren’t very safe. Planes aren’t much better for trips under 1000 miles. They require you to go to airports on the outskirts, frequently with no public transit connections. Once you factor in everything, a 500 mile flight may average no faster city center to city center than HSR. And plane crashes have killed thousands of people in the same time frame where HSR has killed only a handful. As if that weren’t already enough, HSR can be powered by electricity generated by any means, whereas planes require expensive, polluting liquid fuels.

    If rail is indeed a relic of the past as you say, then you offer no viable alternatives to it. The present road and air based system of transport will eventually doom the US to third-world status. HSR will work great here if built in conjunction with decent local rail transit. We don’t need to follow what is done in Europe or Japan, but rather adapt HSR to the conditions which exist here. We also need to end all subsidies for road-based transit. This would make building sprawl much more expensive, to the point where most businesses would opt to relocate back into cities. Once most of the sprawl is gone, the reason for many of our roads and the cars which use them vanishes.

  • Joe R.

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus In Europe a much greater percentage of goods are moved by truck than in the states. That’s the reason for their highway system. The majority of Europeans think it’s insanity to take a car on a trip of a few hundred miles or longer. Instead, they opt for HSR.

    In the US we move quite a bit of goods by rail, and could move even more if we stopped subsidizing long-distance trucking. This would allow us to reclaim part or all of the right-of-way of Interstate highways for rail, either conventional or HSR. A rail line running along an Interstate, with local stops spaced similarly to current entrances/exits, would more or less obsolete the need to travel long distances by car. If there aren’t public transit connections at your stop, car rental or taxi would take you those last few miles. This is a case of adapting HSR to conditions here in the US. I’ll readily admit once you get past about 1000 miles, it might make sense to fly if you’re in a hurry. Even so, a lot of people would opt for the relative safety and comfort of HSR even for a cross-country trip given how unpleasant air travel has gotten. 2500 miles NYC-LA could be done in about 15 hours by HSR.  That’s probably 7 or 8 hours more than flying, or basically on night’s sleep. Board the train at night instead of the plane in the morning. In the end the only difference is you slept on the train instead of at home.

  • Such and estensive rail system for the US is preposterous, nothing but a fantasy of the anti-car movement. Joe doesn’t understand either the people or the country he lives in.

  • Joe R.

    @ea1809617b00430091318d0e92a6ef00:disqus So what do you propose then instead of rail? The status quo is unsustainable. This isn’t just because of ever rising fuel prices (although those certainly don’t help). It’s also the fact that per capita the roads which sustain sprawl require a massive subsidy. And then there are the external costs of an auto-based transit system (pollution, injuries, deaths, land use, etc). When you take all this into account, rail starts to look pretty good on all counts.

    And I understand the people in this country pretty well. You have the few who benefit from the status quo spreading myths and half truths to derail every attempt to move away from cars and highways. To a person, everyone I’ve talked to would love to have real alternatives to driving. Fantasy is thinking we can continue making the mistakes we’ve made over the last 50 years without paying the price. Fantasy is also thinking we can continue to ignore demands for alternatives to private cars forever.

    As for the “anti-car movement”, I’m not against cars perse, but I’m against using them where inappropriate (i.e. places like NYC, especially Manhattan). Just as HSR, or really any form of mass transit, makes little sense in a place like Nebraska, cars make little sense in densely populated areas. The fact that they’ve been foisted upon such areas, usually with detrimental results, speaks of the influence of big oil and big auto. So here’s the deal. Let the states on the coasts keep all their tax dollars and build the type of transportation network best suited for us. We won’t ask the people of Nebraska or Wyoming or Idaho to subsidize our HSR via federal tax dollars. The flip side of that is Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, etc. will no longer be creditor states which have their highways partly subsidized by debtor states like New York or California. And if any state or city on the coasts wants to ban cars at its borders, it will be free to do so without federal interference. Good luck with that. My guess is after 20 years most of middle America will revert to the farmland it was, prior to the age of the auto, as either the roads crumble, or cars become mostly useless as they become banned from more and more cities.

  • Mr. Anderson, you seem to think that just because not every American has been to Europe, that every American will continue to prefer getting the Freedom Fondle at the airport every time he flies, and continue to favor bankrupting the country keeping people from getting penknives aboard planes, instead of building an alternative that doesn’t cost so mych to operate. 

    You are wrong. 

  • What makes you think security for train systems will be any less intrusive than for air travel? With hundreds of miles of track, terrorists would find HSR systems easy pickings.

  • “What makes you think security for train systems will be any less intrusive than for air travel? With hundreds of miles of track, terrorists would find HSR systems easy pickings.

    You can’t fly a train into a building. You can bomb a train, just as you can bomb a plane, or a movie theater, or any other place or thing with people in it. 

    DUH…

  • beenthere

    Sorry, very unconvincing.  Who is APTA, anyway?  Sounds like a VERY biased source, whose name you can’t even disclose. 

    the counter-arguments you cite are not objective points, simply opinions.  VERY UNCONVINCING.  That there are no facts or references cited STONGLY seems that there ARE NO facts supporting the projects.

    For example, using NON-HSR rail projects as an argument for HSR is WRONG.  It is an argument AGAINST HSR, and FOR conventional rail!

  • Anonymous

    Several people have commented that the airlines can and will continue to provide all the medium and long transport needed.  No trains need apply.
    False.  The problem is we are running out of runway slots at key airports.  There are only so many planes that can fly in-out per runway per hour.  We are at or near those limits in the North East, Chicago, Atlanta and other key hubs.  Even if small cities have slots, the linking planes can’t be flow through the hubs and the air system is capped.  This is separate from fuel costs, security hassles, baggage limits and other crap TSA and the airlines are throwing at us.
    Trains – fast regular and HSR – have the ability to move people faster in the under 200-400 mile range than aircraft, and if used that way, they free up slots for the 500-3000 mile long distannce trips that planes do better than most rail lines.  Trains are not cheap, but they are cheaper than new airports.
    What would it take to increase airport capacity?  New runways and complete new airports, plus whatever ground side terminals to handle more people – and the new/expanded ground connections.
    Have you priced a new airport lately?  We are talking many billions – price out the new Denver field.  But Denver was able to build on a former weapons depot – big empty land close to the city.  Where do we find the land for new jetports?
    Someone mentioned NIMBY as a problem for new or enhanced rail lines.  Yes it’s a real problem.  But how easy would it be to find the space for new airports in Boston, NYC, Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, LA?  And how many years would be tied up in environmental review?  Even with money and will, airport expansion will be a long slow and often futile effort.
    Just like cities can’t build their way out of traffic congestion with more roads, the airlines will be unable to meet any more short range demand while meeting long distance travel needs.  A combination of HSR and regular rail transit can save the airlines from their own “success.” 

  • Guest

    Several people have commented that the airlines can and will continue to provide all the medium and long transport needed.  No trains need apply.
    False.  The problem is we are running out of runway slots at key airports.  There are only so many planes that can fly in-out per runway per hour.  We are at or near those limits in the North East, Chicago, Atlanta and other key hubs.  Even if small cities have slots, the linking planes can’t be flow through the hubs and the air system is capped.  This is separate from fuel costs, security hassles, baggage limits and other crap TSA and the airlines are throwing at us.
    Trains – fast regular and HSR – have the ability to move people faster in the under 200-400 mile range than aircraft, and if used that way, they free up slots for the 500-3000 mile long distannce trips that planes do better than most rail lines.  Trains are not cheap, but they are cheaper than new airports.
    What would it take to increase airport capacity?  New runways and complete new airports, plus whatever ground side terminals to handle more people – and the new/expanded ground connections.
    Have you priced a new airport lately?  We are talking many billions – price out the new Denver field.  But Denver was able to build on a former weapons depot – big empty land close to the city.  Where do we find the land for new jetports?
    Someone mentioned NIMBY as a problem for new or enhanced rail lines.  Yes it’s a real problem.  But how easy would it be to find the space for new airports in Boston, NYC, Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, LA?  And how many years would be tied up in environmental review?  Even with money and will, airport expansion will be a long slow and often futile effort.
    Just like cities can’t build their way out of traffic congestion with more roads, the airlines will be unable to meet any more short range demand while meeting long distance travel needs.  A combination of HSR and regular rail transit can save the airlines from their own “success.” 

  • Mike

    When most talk about how long it took to fly somewhere they consider the time from take off to landing. No consideration is given to the drive to the airport, the parking hassles, check-in process, bag check fees and then the TSA fun. It has been years since I have flown commercial. I have not yet been on the Acela but I have used Amtrak’s Keystone service to go to NYC and have also switched trains at 30th Street in Philly for both DC and Boston. And at 6’5″ the leg room is fantastic – even in the cheap seats!

  • Train systems also require stations, connecting transit, parking lots, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, train systems require connecting transit– unlike airports, however, they’re generally located where connecting transit is the best. Parking lots? Why? Locally, if people want to drive they can drive to a suburban Bart station. If they’re in the city, they’ll take a cab, at a fraction of the cost of paying for parking garages. Outsource the parking lots. Stations? Sure. Stations can also be filled with rent-paying tenants– being at the center of a transit network with thousands of passengers passing through makes for pretty good rents. Now the Transbay Terminal is staggeringly expensive, no question. If the agency was focused solely on cost-effectiveness, it would take a page from Japan and build high rises and malls above the station instead of architectural feats of grandeur and rooftop parks. But that’s a luxury we have chosen to spend our money on, not a failure of the mode of transportation.

    I read recently that the Disney concert hall in LA cost $130 million to build– and the parking garage it required cost $110 million. And this is supposed to an example of sane transportation planning?

  • Mike

    In Philly the commuter rail system run by SEPTA shares the station at 30th and Market with Amtrak. The SEPTA trains going east then go underground to what was the Pennsylvania RR Suburban Station. The RR station is in the basement with shopping on the mezzanine level and an at least 20 story office building on top. Right in the middle of town by city hall and next to and connected with the new Comcast building. In the 80’s the commuter rail line was extended eastward, still underground, to the Reading RR Terminal building. A downtown shopping complex is above as well as the Philly Convention Center. The SEPTA trains also connect to the airport with service on the half hour. Urban rail CAN be done right. Philly was lucky to have been able to merge the suburban rail services from both the Reading and Pennsy railroads.