High Speed Rail – Without federal funding states forced to get creative.

“Without federal funding, bullet train projects across the country have gotten creative.” – Citylab.

That’s the way it should be. Take away clumsy top down federal funding mechanisms. Force states to get creative. End of day achieve better outcomes.

“The Republican smackdown of federal high-speed rail funding was supposed to be the death of the national system of fast trains the White House envisioned early in President Obama’s first term. And yet cities across the country keep trying to make HSR happen.” – Eric Jaffe, Citylab

 I am a supporter of High Speed Rail (HSR) in the US. But to use Strongtowns vernacular a top down federal funding source would likely result in an “orderly but dumb” system.

Strongtowns often recites “Carlson’s Law” which states, “top-down innovation is orderly but dumb, bottom-up innovation is chaotic but smart.” Looks like in the case of HSR, a lack of federal funding is forcing states to get creative. That is a good thing.

Some examples:

So the lack of a clumsy top down funding mechanism results in incrementalism, private money at stake and insistence on value capture – in other words, all the things you want to hear with a HSR proposal. The items that will go alot futher to ensure projects are successful. And all items that wouldn’t be assured in an orderly but dumb top down framework.

Conservatives need to avoid hypocrisy.

Why on earth is the Texas legislature considering a bill to “hobble” a private companies effort to build a critical high speed rail connection in Texas? Kind of mind boggling. Anti competition, anti market.. Especially considering the private company has vowed not to take a dime of public money. And by building this rail line the company helps Texas avoid dumping countless millions into massively subsidized highway improvements.

Here is the issue: A private company wants to finance a bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes. The company undertaking the project has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. Texas Senate Bill targeting bullet train project advances.


As usual Strongtowns nails it:

“Texas is known for its commitment to limited government, individual responsibility and personal liberty. At least it likes to think of itself that way. When it comes to transportation — specifically automobile transportation — Texas is one of the most socialist states in the country, taxing and spending at amazing rates with an additional predilection towards borrowing enormous sums of money to build even more government-backed infrastructure.

I thought us Republicans were all about competition and the free market? I know that I believe in those things? So what’s the issue? Turns out to be eminent domain. Ok, I get that.

But here’s where the hypocrisy comes in. I wonder if the Texas legislature has the same mentality with the Keystone pipeline (also for profit venture) and eminent domain? Taking the eminent domain issues off the table, I have mixed feelings on the pipeline project. What I do know is I can’t stand hypocrisy. And that’s exactly what I’m smelling out of the Texas legislature.


Currently, hundreds of private firms have eminent domain authority in Texas, including pipeline companies, utility companies and telecommunication firms. More than a dozen private railroad companies also have that authority, according to an unofficial list maintained by the state comptroller.

What about if the proposal was a new massively taxpayer subsidized highway that required eiminent or STROAD widening project that involved a taking? Legislators would probably fall over themselves to support it. Can we please avoid cherry picking and applying our conservative principles evenly? We aren’t in the business of picking winners (taxpayer subsidized highway and air lobby) and losers (in this case privately funded rail)

Hypocrisy. Can’t stand it.. Throw in the immensely powerful and massively taxpayer subsidized highway lobby. (Airports also). Very smelly.

This is exactly what we need in the US. Private companies can make passenger rail profitable. The key? SPEED.