Media Continue Spreading High-Speed Rail Misinformation

Following the Obama administration’s decision to revoke Ohio and Wisconsin’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program funding that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), it was announced that the funds would be reallocated to high-speed rail projects in California and Florida. Unlike the scuttled Ohio and Wisconsin corridors, the proposed high-speed rail projects in California and Florida actually meet the technical definitions of “high-speed rail.” But it should not be surprising that these coastal-state corridors are far more expensive than the “medium-speed rail” projects that were proposed in the Midwest. The 84-mile Tampa-Orlando/I-4 line, for example, has been estimated to cost a minimum of $5.40 per passenger mile, 8 times more expensive than rural Midwest freeway lanes and nearly 3 times more expensive than the proposed medium-speed Midwest rail lines.

The projects themselves are bad enough, but major media coverage has been depressingly awful. Writers, anchors, and talk show hosts have been allowing all sorts of falsehoods and misinformation to be passed along to readers and viewers as objective fact. Below are three of the more recent examples that I’ve come across:

  • “The Diane Rehm Show,” National Public Radio, 1/4/2011 — Host Diane Rehm repeated the falsehood that recently elected Ohio Governor John Kasich “turn[ed] down money” for the proposed high-speed rail lines in his state. In reality, the Obama administration rescinded funding prior to Kasich being sworn into office.
  • Michael Grunwald, “High-Speed Rail: Obama’s High-Stakes Gamble,” TIME magazine, 12/28/2010 — Grunwald tries to be harsh when confronting some of the dumber aspects of HSIPR (such as Ohio’s mothballed-for-now “high-speed” rail line that would have allowed trains to achieve average speeds of about 40 mph), yet completely ignores others. While mentioning that we still don’t know what the capital costs of California’s proposed L.A.-San Francisco high-speed rail line will ultimately be, Grunwald cites the latest $43 billion estimate. However, he fails to mention that only a year ago, planners were still estimating the cost to be at $33 billion. He also fails to mention that Tampa voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have funded the creation of rail transit in the city; rail transit being essentially a prerequisite to ensure non-trivial intercity rail ridership between Tampa and Orlando.
  • Huma Kahn, “Will Republican Revolt on High-Speed Rail Projects Derail Obama’s Plan?” ABC News, 12/13/2010This article attempts to paint opposition to so-called high-speed rail as typical partisan, personality politics. Kahn actually opens with the line, “Many Americans soon could see European-style high-speed trains in their backyards,” and then goes on to detail the ARRA funding revocations in Ohio and Wisconsin, neither of which had anything to do with “European-style high-speed trains.”