'Evening News' Segment Lobbies for European-Style High-Speed Rail

On Memorial Day, when many Americans are returning from vacation destinations on the highways, CBS found a possible way for government to solve the gridlock on roads and in airports.


A May 25 “CBS Evening News” segment determined that high-speed bullet trains like those overseas could solve all our transportation problems.


“It’s long been believed the highways and airways would be less crowded if there was a faster, more efficient passenger train system in this country, like those high-speed bullet trains in Europe and Asia,” said “CBS Evening News” anchor Jeff Glor.


According to CBS correspondent Jeff Greenfield, our U.S. transportation system is lagging far behind those overseas because of our lack of a high-speed rail system like in Japan, China and Europe.


“In Japan, the bullet train has been racing across the country for 45 years at 185 miles per hour,” Greenfield said. “In China, trains run between Beijing and Tianjin at more than 200 miles per hour. In Europe, trains criss-cross Britain, France and Spain faster than 150 miles per hour. But here in the United States, only the Acela briefly reaches speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour on its Boston-to-Washington run. For most of that trip, it averages more like 85.”


To Greenfield, this lack of high-speed rail infrastructure in the United States is cause for concern.


“Why? Why does the United States lag years, decades behind Europe and Asia?” Greenfield said. “Can a new administration really put this country on track for high-speed rail and should it?”


Greenfield noted that the federal government’s stimulus plan signed into law earlier this year contains money for high-speed rail.


“Obama’s stimulus plan includes an initial $13 billion for high-speed rail projects along the northeast corridor, in the Midwest, California and Florida,” Greenfield said. “A train going at the speed of the European model would make it from New York to Washington in about an hour and a half. It’s about the same from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C. San Francisco to Los Angeles – about two-and-a-half hours.”


That may be true, but air travel currently is much cheaper than Amtrak in most instances, and it’s still much faster than the estimates Greenfield cited. Currently a direct commercial flight from Washington, D.C.’s Reagan-National Airport to New York’s LaGuardia airport is an hour and 17 minutes. A flight from Atlanta to Charlotte is an hour and seven minutes. And a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco is an hour and 20 minutes.


But Obama administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said high-speed rail expenditures are a way of relieving congested roads and airports, despite the price tag that would run “into the hundreds of billions of dollars” according to Greenfield.


“You’re trying to sell a system that is ultra expensive as though it were something that were designed for the masses to be affordable and it’s not,” former GOP Oklahoma congressman and Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation Ernest Istook said to CBS.


And as reported by Reuters, Senate Republicans claim Amtrak has received over $21 billion in federal tax dollars to cover operating and capital costs since 1971. However, Amtrak loses more than $700 million annually. With exponentially more taxpayer dollars at stake, there’s no indication that Amtrak could do a better job overseeing a high-speed rail system.


A similar segment was aired on “NBC Nightly News” on April 11. According to the report, the money put into the stimulus for high-speed rail wasn’t nearly enough.