Friday, August 21, 2009

High Speed Trains Won't Revitalize Dying Cities, so says Harvard professor Edward Glaeser

In the fourth installment of a series by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser looking at the economics of high speed trains at the Economix blog of the New York Times, Glaeser argues "rail's potential reshaping of the American economy" is overblown. He notes high speed trains will not help cities, not even Philadelphia:

Philadelphia is the more natural beneficiary of high-speed rail access to Manhattan; there are already people who live in Philadelphia and commute to New York. Yet even in this most propitious setting, the coming of Acela seems to have had little impact on the population decline of Philadelphia or growth of Wilmington. Perhaps the absence of any trend break in population growth around 2000 just reflects the incremental nature of the Acela investment, but there is little here to bring confidence that rail lines revitalize cities.

Jay Yarow of the Business Insider disagrees with Glaeser and notes that "he prohibitive cost of the Acela makes it impossible for rationalizing a move to Philadelphia and commuting to New York on economic grounds. If a truly high speed rail line were set up between the two cities, and the commute only took 45 minutes to 1 hour, and the tickets were more reasonably priced, $1,000-$1,200 a month, we think Philadelphia really becomes the sixth borough of New York, as the New York Times called it in 2005 (to the consternation of Philadelphians)."

I agree with Jay, high speed trains will economically benefit US cities serviced by them and Philly would likely be one of the cities to benefit the most with high speed service to NYC and Washington DC. I would've taken the Acela all the time if it were cheaper and did the run in 45 minutes. Don't know if I would have stayed in Philly but I know there is demand for faster service to NYC from the metro Philly area. Will the economic impact of high speed trains be dramatic? Not huge but tangible I think and shortening the time it takes to get between cities by train has been proven to be a good thing in every country that has fast train service. Even the success of Amtrak's Acela has proven high speed trains are a good business in the US and are profitable. So resistance to deploying high speed/higher speed trains in the US where appropriate in the face of proof that it is working now and will be successful is just silly.


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