Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Reason Foundation's Broken Logic, Summed Up in Two Sentences

Real-life American humans waiting to ride a high-speed rail train (!!!).
This is from a year ago, but I just came across it while doing some other research and it was too perfect to pass up. Here's Baruch Feigenbaum from the Reason Foundation arguing why high-speed rail could never work in the U.S. These sentences are literally back to back in the same paragraph:
A U.S. high-speed rail line would need ridership of 6 million to 9 million people per year to break even. The high-speed Acela service, despite operating in the busy Northeast Corridor, averages only 3.4 million passengers per year.
With Acela capturing barely half the "minimum" break-even ridership, one might imagine after reading Feigenbaum's article that the rail service has been a catastrophic failure. Clearly, we shouldn't waste our money on any more high-speed rail boondoggles. A quick look at actual facts, however, shows that Acela is doing quite well: despite its trains, which can only travel a maximum of 150 mph; its decrepit tracks, which don't allow the trains to travel anywhere near its max speed for most of its length; and the fact that it has to share many miles of those tracks with freight, Acela is killing it.

Here's Amtrak's most recently monthly report, which shows Acela has generated over $240 million in operating profit – literally more than half of its revenues – since the beginning of the fiscal year:

Taken from the June 2014 Amtrak Monthly Performance Report, page C-1.
But you won't find Reason acknowledging uncomfortable facts like these. Unfortunately, this kind of poorly-researched, easily refutable analysis permeates the Reason's baldly politically-motivated work. For another example, you can look to Reason's roundly-criticized "report" from a few years ago, in which two of their writers declared the LA Metro Expo (light rail) Line a failure literally days after it opened. A year later, the Expo Line hit its 2020 ridership projections seven years ahead of schedule. It's almost as though they don't respect their readers enough to expect them to do any of their own research!

If I were running a Metro or any other transportation authority I'd be treating Reason's jabs and low-blows as a badge of honor. And if their previous reports are any indication, California's impending high-speed rail service is in for a bright, prosperous future.


  1. Acela runs exclusively on the northeast Corridor. There is no freight on the northeast Corridor. Don't complain about other people not having the facts, when you don't have them.

    1. Can you provide a source for that Russ? This is something I did at least check quickly in Google before writing and several articles back it up, but they do lack links to more official sources. I'm happy to issue a correction if you can show me that info -- try getting that deal from Reason!

    2. There is no freight on the northeast Corridor.

      Bullshit. The NEC is mostly a passenger corridor, but has a small amount of freight; the Amtrak NEC Master Plan mentions this on PDF-pp. 25-26.

      But honestly, the biggest shared-track problem is not freight, which can be scheduled not to interfere with intercity trains, but commuter rail, which has huge tidal volumes at peak hours. The slowest segment of the NEC is the New Haven Line, where the commuter rail operators slow down everyone in order to avoid having to schedule overtakes of intercity and commuter trains.

  2. Freight on the NEC: the Providence & Worcester Railroad in RI, CT, NY; CSX in MA; Norfolk Southern in PA, DE, MD, and others. There was a relatively recent article in Trains Magazine showing ALL railroads that use the NEC in addition to Amtrak. If you'd like to ride the P&W on the NEC in October, check out