So, the story that Harry Reid snuck the $8 billion for high speed rail into the stimulus package has been debunked. As the New York Times reports, Las Vegas is not in any of the corridors designated to receive high-speed rail funds. But the more important policy angle to the story is the fact that it reveals that the money for high-speed rail will not necessarily go to constructing new high-speed rail lines at all. It costs more than $8 billion just to build one long line — for instance, the northern-to-southern California route is expected to cost approximately $40 billion. And the money will be spread around. So, since the law will define high-speed as anything above 90 miles per hour, it will go to the sorts of basic improvements and expansions to the existing infrastructure, such as track expansions and more sophisticated signal systems, that can speed trains up.
That’s good because, as I’ve written before, the real problem in this country is a lack of quality service and mass transit options on existing corridors. You’ve got to learn to crawl before you walk.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.