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Debate about benefits of high speed rail

By Bill Raack, St. Louis Public Radio


A new study has been released touting the economic and environmental benefits of high speed rail in the Midwest.

The study by the public interest advocacy group MoPIRG finds that a Midwest high-speed rail network would create thousands of jobs while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.

Advocates of the high speed rail network planned for the Midwest say it will add thousands of temporary and permanent jobs and improve the environment by reducing congestion on the roads.

Critics of high speed rail say the benefits are negligible and the amount of tax dollars being spent on the system is out of line with subsidies for other types of public transportation, like the airline industry.

MoPIRG's Matt Erickson said that the system won't compare to the bullet trains in European countries.

"But increasing it from 80 to 110 miles per hour decreases the travel time on the train to just under four hours from St. Louis to Chicago," Erickson said. "That's a big improvement. That's faster than you can get there by car, it's more comfortable, it's better for the environment, it's just better all around."

Wendell Cox, head of the St. Louis-based public policy firm Demographia, said that there's no evidence the study's claims about economic benefits are true.

"This sounds very much to me like the thousands of jobs that were going to be made by building various stadia around the country," Cox said. "I mean there isn't an interest in this country that pursues public funding that doesn't come up with some economic report that says that jobs are going to be created all over the place."

Cox, who served on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and the Amtrak Reform Council, also said that the environmental benefit claims of high speed rail are greatly overstated.


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