Top U.S. high-speed rail experts, lawmakers respond to CNN.com user comments
Is high speed rail profitable? Efficient? Does it create jobs? Are buses better?
Is building high speed rail lines cheaper than building highways?
(CNN) -- Are proposed multibillion dollar high-speed railway projects in the United States a smart move or a huge waste of taxpayer dollars?
CNN.com users are challenging politicians, policymakers and each other about whether the Obama administration's push to build high-speed rail lines in the Midwest, West Coast and elsewhere is on the right track.
Many users want proof that high-speed rail can be a profitable, efficient job generator to help raise the sagging U.S. economy when compared with other types of transportation.
Read how federal budget cuts have slashed high-speed rail funding
Experts -- including the two most powerful congressional lawmakers on rail issues, think-tank specialists and policymakers at the Department of Transportation -- have directly responded to CNN.com user comments.
Comment: "There are NO high speed rail projects in the world that are profitable. None. They are all taxpayer/government subsidized." -- CNN.com user "aksdad"
Expert response: 'Not necessarily true'
Interactive map: Proposed high speed rails
Archive: Florida rejects federal funds Obama on high speed rail
Robert Puentes at the Brookings Institution: "The Acela Express, Amtrak's high speed rail service along the Northeast corridor, has shown a positive return from its New York-to-D.C. route."
Highways, airlines: "And it's not fair to just point the finger at high speed rail. Highways and other modes of transportation, like the airlines, are heavily subsidized, too."
Expert response: Not true
Reps. John Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials: "While many high-speed rail systems in the world rely on a government subsidy, this in no way means that rail operations cannot be profitable.
Other nations: "Private rail operators in Great Britain, such as South West Transport and Virgin Rail, compete for franchise intercity rail service contracts and regularly generate a profit. Rail routes in Japan and France turn a profit."
Private sector: "Rather than relying on the federal government and Amtrak to operate profitable passenger rail, we must put the focus on the private sector to develop and operate self-sustaining, profitable passenger rail in parts of the country where it makes sense."
Comment: "Any rail project in the U.S. will require steel rails imported form Korea or China and train components imported from Germany. Yes, we will need a few locals to put this all together, but the primary jobs will be created overseas." -- CNN.com user "StanCalif"
Expert response: Not true
Roy Kienitz, under secretary for policy, U.S. Department of Transportation: "The High-Speed Rail Program includes strict Buy America provisions, which require steel, iron and any manufactured goods used in the program to be produced in the United States."
Examples: "Already, the steel rail for projects in Maine and Vermont are being cast at a plant in Indiana. Rehabilitation of passenger cars is underway in Delaware, Indiana and New York. And, rail sector manufacturers and suppliers are developing or expanding their operations in the U.S. to accommodate anticipated future demand."
Highways cost more?
Comment: "The cost to build highways actually exceed rail costs." -- CNN.com user "sojoweb"
Expert response: It depends
Philip Longman, senior research fellow, New America Foundation:
Terrain: "Trains can't turn corners as tightly as rubber-wheeled vehicles, and they need gentler grades than trucks or cars to maintain speed. This means that in hilly or mountainous areas, building a rail line may require more earthmoving, including tunneling, than building a highway. But this consideration doesn't apply on flatter terrain, and in almost all instances, a rail line can move as many or more people than a highway using a much narrower right-of-way. Because of this, building a rail usually involves far less condemnation of private property than building an Interstate."
Technology: "Also, advances in the use of computers to control train movements are now allowing us to run many more trains on the same track than in the past. This is further adding to the cost advantage rail. Someday we may have Interstates where computers control the flow of cars and thereby allow far more cars to operate safely and quickly without building new lanes. But while "smart highways" are still a long way off, computer control of trains is now being rapidly rolled out across the country. Some people even wonder how long we will still need engineers."
Helping mid-sized cities
Comment: "History shows that investment in infrastructure results in economic growth in the future." -- CNN.com user "thenewsjunki"
Expert response: That's true
Longman, New America Foundation: "It's true in general and particularly true of specific rail projects."
... no one mode of transportation can meet the nation's needs...
--GOP Reps. John Mica and Bill Shuster
Economic connectivity: "One of the biggest and often overlooked advantages of high speed rail, and even of not-so-high-speed rail, is its ability to restore the economic promise of many mid-sized cities where airline service is no longer available or prohibitively expensive.
Fast, frequent rail passenger and package express service once provided cities like Lynchburg, Virginia, or Rockford, Illinois, with the connectivity to other markets they needed to thrive as centers of business. Now, as part of "flyover America," they struggle because getting from there to anywhere else requires long auto drives to distant and/or poorly served airports ...