Friday, March 20, 2009

High Speed Passenger Rail: Future Development Will Depend on Addressing Financial and Other Challenges and Establishing a Clear Federal Role

This Government Accountability Office Report (GAO-09-317) dated March 2009 examines several proposed high speed rail routes and analyzes problems that may hinder implementation of the program.

Factors affecting the economic viability of high speed rail lines include the
level of expected riders, costs, and public benefits (i.e., benefits to non-riders
and the nation as a whole from such things as reduced congestion), which are
influenced by a line’s corridor and service characteristics. High speed rail
tends to attract riders in dense, highly populated corridors, especially where
there is congestion on existing transportation modes. While some U.S. corridors have
characteristics that suggest economic viability, uncertainty associated with
rider and cost estimates and the valuation of public benefits makes it difficult
to make such determinations on individual proposals. Research on rider and
cost forecasts has shown they are often optimistic, and the extent that U.S.
sponsors quantify and value public benefits varies.

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