I don't regard rail as a matter of theology. Truth be told, I like trains. If I am going to Chicago and can take the Hiawatha, I do. There are tracks about a half mile from my house. It would be great if I could catch a train and take it downtown (those tracks don't go there). But I understand that it's not going to happen if it's not economically viable. New York and DC and London and Boston have wonderful subway systems, but it'd be hard to make the numbers work for such a system here.
In some sense, rail is an antiquated technology. New and successful technologies tend to facilitate choice and accommodate what users want to do. Rail moves people along fixed points. If, as with the New York subway, large numbers of people want to move between these points, it works. If they don't, it works less well.
There are folks, like my former Backstory colleague Jim Rowen, who understand that and think it's a good thing. We need, in their view, to concentrate people. Making it harder to move where they will (the road to Sprawlsville) helps accomplish that.
This op-ed in the Wisconsin State Journal argues for a high speed Midwestern rail network. Such a system, it argues, would be great for every one. "It is a win-win-win: good for business, good for jobs and good for the environment." The absence of such a system "constrains our regional economy."
If that were so, then we could afford to build that system. If we - all of us - would be better off with some other rail system than what we have, then it would make sense for us to build it. But the op-ed acknowledges that this is not so:
Wisconsin is leading the charge as nine state transportation departments have committed to build a Midwest high-speed rail network. But the states can 't do it alone. A strong federal-state funding partnership is needed to develop high-speed passenger rail.
This says that we would like such a system but it won't pay for itself, so we need a federal subsidy. If that's so, then how is it a win-win-win? How much can the lack of more trains actually be holding back the regional economy. One would think that, if it was, it would be worth it for the region to pay for them.
In fact, the subsidy may not be to the Midwest, but to Madison. You can take the train from Milwaukee to Chicago. You can take the train from Milwaukee to the Cities. You can go to St. Louis and Indianapolis and Cleveland and Detroit and Cinncinati and all sorts of other places. Certainly the train could be faster (travel times seem to be about what it would take to drive there without traffic), but it will never be as fast as travel by air.