Paying for Choo Choos is Expensive


I like trains. I’m not sure exactly why. It has been suggested to me that it could be nostalgia, but I don’t think it can be nostalgia from personal experience. The only trains I’ve ridden were in Thailand, and while that is a cheap mode of intercity travel and isn’t too bad for trips that are only a few hours, I was pretty miserable riding overnight in 3rd class. The odor of diesel exhaust and the water closet were constant companions, as was the cold air coming through the windows overnight, as I tried to get some sleep on a hard plastic seat sitting upright. I don’t think it’s nostalgia from personal experience.

Part of it could be that I enjoy the board game Ticket to Ride. It’s highly recommended, as is Hell on Wheels, which not only features the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad but is also sympathetic to a Southron.

However, it just doesn’t seem to be the case that many passenger trains are profitable; most have to be heavily subsidized by the government. I certainly wish this wasn’t the case given my enthusiasm for trains, but I would rather not see huge amounts of money be wasted constructing totally unnecessary rail lines.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for California’s High Speed Rail Authority. According to, one end of the line is to be in a remote area of San Joaquin Valley, clearly showing that politicians push for these trains, not because they believe that they will act as efficient means of transportation, but because they can then claim they are creating jobs. We recognize that such claims are erroneous, of course, knowing the lesson that Henry Hazlitt taught us. What is seen is all the people working to create these rail lines, but what is unseen are all the jobs that now aren’t going to be created because of the money spent building this rail line, jobs that are far more likely to be sustainable.

It is surprising that the politicians’ handling of finance of the project is considered legal. According to K. Lloyd Billingsley, the voters approved bonds for the project back in 2008 for $43 billion. Now the cost is projected to be $100 billion (and not to be completed until 2033)! CA voters don’t get to vote on the higher price tag. How is this not fraud?

The politicians also care not for either the environment nor property rights. Billingsley: “…one thing stands between the state rail bosses and the property they need: the rightful owners. They are not eager for a train to displace productive farmland. The project would also be environmentally destructive but supporters such as California governor Jerry Brown want to suspend environmental regulations for high-speed rail.”

Thus, the whole thing seems to be a loser all around, except for the politicians and contractors who get to take the money away from taxpayers, who are left with an extremely expensive rail line that few of them are likely to use and will probably have to be subsidized just to operate. It is the boondoggle that keeps on taking.


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