$273,000 A Second

That's how much is being spent between Chicago and Detroit to improve transit times on a money-losing passenger rail segment.

When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced (last) week that he was awarding Michigan nearly $200 million for high-speed rail, he claimed that the project would bring “trains up to speeds of 110 mph on a 235-mile section of the Chicago to Detroit corridor, reducing trip times by 30 minutes.” But Michigan’s own grant application says the $196.5 million will only increase average speeds from 60 to 64 mph – with the top speed remaining unchanged at 79 mph. That is, travelers will save a mere 12 minutes – not 30.

In short, anyone who thinks they will soon see bullet trains in Michigan has been misled.

Why the discrepancy between the claimed 110 mph-and-30 and the real 79 mpg-and-12?

Page 12 of the grant application tells the tale: After spending the $197 million, the state is applying for another grant that will require hundreds of millions more to increase speeds to 110 mph.

Together with Michigan’s senators and governor, LaHood’s press conference was an exercise in high-speed deception.

Last year, about 480,000 people rode the Chicago-Detroit trains, which are some of the biggest money-losers in the Amtrak system. Can anyone really believe that saving 1,315 people 12 minutes a day is worth $196.5 million? The state will have to spend a lot more money to have trains reach top speeds of 110 mph (which means average speeds of around 75 mph). Michigan’s 2009 Chicago-Detroit rail plan projected costs of more than $1.3 billion, of which the state has less than $400 million so far. So bringing the tracks up to 110-mph standards will cost at least $900 million more.

This doesn’t count the cost of locomotives and railcars, which the plan projects will be more than $350 million for enough trains to make 20 daily round trips. Last Monday, the federal government also gave $268.2 million for locomotives and railcars to five Midwestern states. Assuming a third of that goes to the Michigan corridor, the state still needs some $250 million more.

I sometimes get accused of having a weird bias against rail.  What I actual have is a bias against stupid spending, but for those unfamiliar with my blog, I offer this to fight the rail bias meme.

  • MJ

    I think the idea is to turn Detroit into a suburb of Chicago, since most people are leaving Detroit anyway.

  • Another guy named Dan

    As I calculate it, that is roughly $34 per passenger minute saved, or almost $2050 per hour of gained passenger productivity. I can virtually guarantee that if there is anyone out there who truly values their time at over two thousand dollars an hour, they're not going to be riding Amtrak any time soon.

  • http://www.cogfactory.net colson

    Damn you MJ - I was just about to say that the plan was to speed up the flight from Detroint.

  • marco73

    All that will really happen is the states of Michigan and Illinois will be saddled with operational losses, at taxpayer expense, for decades to come. Thank goodness Governor Scott in Florida told the Feds no.

  • caseyboy

    Here is another boondoggle to add to the list. Copied from Newmax.com

    "They’re calling it the “train to nowhere.”

    California is ready to spend $5.5 billion to build a high-speed rail line from Corcoran, a town about 30 miles south of Fresno known for the prison housing Charles Manson, to Borden, a ghost town north of Fresno.

    But trains on the line in the state’s Central Valley are not scheduled to stop at either Corcoran or Borden.

    It’s true that the roughly 70-mile line would be the first leg of a planned rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles estimated to cost between $43 billion and $81 billion. But there is no guarantee that once that leg is built, the entire line will then be constructed, leading Democratic State Sen. Alan Lowenthal to tell CNBC, “I don’t know if it’s a train to nowhere, but it could possibly be an orphan set of tracks.

    While high-speed trains in Europe and Japan are technologically impressive, nearly all the routes in those jurisdictions lose money and need large subsidies to stay afloat,” the site concludes. “America’s geography is even less suited for a successful high-speed rail system than Europe or Japan because our cities are less dense and spaced farther apart. The federal government should withdraw its support for high-speed rail, and instead focus on major aviation and highway reforms to improve the nation’s mobility.”

  • dondad

    Funny thing is that one of my daughters rode the "train" from Detroit to Chicago a couple of times, and both times, she ended up being put on a bus chartered by Amtrack because the train was not running.

  • http://www.freemktproject.com Pat

    They waste money like it's somebody else's money. Oh wait. It IS somebody else's money.

  • Noah

    The correct metric is dollars per vote.

  • MGW

    Left unsaid here is that the train from Chicago to Detroit is currently scheduled to take 5.5 hours! Even cutting 30 minutes off of that will still make it a 5 hour train trip! In that time you can fly from Seattle to New York. By comparison, the flight from Chicago to Detroit is only 1 hour. Even allowing 1 hour on each end to get to/from the airport, you still come out 2 hours ahead with the 30 minute savings.

    Also, I used to be in love with the idea of train transportation. But every day for several years I was in New York's Penn Station and I constantly saw trains coming from Chicago that were 5-12 hours late. On airplanes, people griped about 3 hour tarmac delays, but a 12 hour delay is just insane. Trains are the transportation of the past, not the future.

  • perlhaqr

    California is ready to spend $5.5 billion to build a high-speed rail line from Corcoran, a town about 30 miles south of Fresno known for the prison housing Charles Manson, to Borden, a ghost town north of Fresno.

    And yet, they don't have enough money to keep the rest stops and state parks open. Fucktards.

  • John R

    Amtrak leaves Chicago Union station three times a day, with a scheduled time to Detroit of between 5 hours, 30 minutes and 5 hours 38 minutes. Ticket cost is $42 to $53. Megabus leaves Chicago Union Station two times a day, with a scheduled time to Detroit of 5 hours 35 minutes to 5 hours, 40 minutes. The Megabus ticket cost is $23. I guess they figure that if they can shave 12 minutes off the time, they can get more people to pay double the price.

  • MJ

    Damn you MJ – I was just about to say that the plan was to speed up the flight from Detroit.

    Great minds think alike. :)