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Myths / Facts
Claim: Few people will ride the trains.
Fact: Amtrak continues to break its annual ridership records, carrying a best-ever 30.9 million passengers for FY 2014. In 2010, ridership increased on every single Amtrak route, with several experiencing double-digit growth.
- According to a widely quoted study, Americans in 2025 are projected to take 112 million trips on high-speed rail, traveling more than 25 billion passenger miles, resulting in 29 million fewer automobile trips, nearly 500,000 fewer flights, and a potential reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
- Not everyone has to use a service to make it worthy of government support. A fraction of Americans use community colleges, fire departments, or public libraries, but all are considered important institutions worthy of investment. One in five Americans has never flown in a commercial airplane, yet few would argue we should not have airports.
Claim: High-speed rail is less energy efficient than driving.
Fact: Trains are 3 times as energy efficient as cars and 6 times as efficient as planes on a per-passenger-mile basis.
- A DOE study found that intercity passenger rail is more energy-efficient than intercity auto trips, even after adjustments are made for the different driving circumstances of intercity trips.
- Adding passengers to a train is done with almost no additional energy use, while adding car travelers means more cars on the road, with their own additional costs and pollution.
Claim: Unlike Europe and Asia, the U.S. does not have the population density to support high-speed rail.
Fact: The U.S. population is densely clustered in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, and California – precisely the areas where high-speed rail projects are advancing.
- The Paris-Lyon high-speed rail line serves a combined population of 11.7 million people 255 miles apart. The population density along the Chicago-Detroit corridor closely resembles this, serving 14.5 million people 304 miles apart.
Claim: People will not be able to get to their final destination from the train station.
Fact: Because train stations are almost always located downtown, they can provide seamless door-to-door transportation.
- The single largest employment zone in almost every metropolitan area is downtown, as are most convention centers, sports arenas, museums, and parks. This is precisely where rail stations are located.
Claim: High-speed rail will require huge government subsidies.
Fact: Every form of transportation requires government investment.
- Since the Federal Aviation Administration’s predecessor was established in 1926, Congress has subsidized the aviation industry with funds from the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund. According to a coalition of major players in the aviation industry, “the use of revenues from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury to pay for a significant portion of the FAA’s costs is long-established national policy.” In almost every year, taxpayer subsidies are larger than airline profits.
Claim: We would be better off spending high-speed rail funds on urban transit.
Fact: This is not an ‘either or’ discussion. High-speed rail and urban transit work together to provide seamless transportation from origin to destination. Investments in transit can boost high-speed rail ridership and vice versa.
Claim: If we build high-speed passenger rail, we will take away capacity for freight rail, resulting in more trucks and more pollution.
Fact: On the contrary, the track and signal upgrades that are part and parcel of high-speed rail plans will enable passenger trains to be more frequent and dependable, which will ultimately allow more freight trains on the tracks, traveling faster, according to a Transportation Economics and Management Systems report.