November 30, 2009
If the federal government approves funding for a high-speed rail line through South Bend, passengers here could travel to Chicago's Union Station in just one hour. Such a project would have a profound effect on life in South Bend, making it easier for residents to commute to jobs in the Windy City, local officials say.There are a lot of good reasons to invest in high speed rail infrastructure. Extreme commuting isn't one of them. Now, this article doesn't specify that people would use this for their daily commute, but there are reasons to think that's the case.
I've heard this argument applied elsewhere. While recently discussing the 3-C Corridor in Ohio, someone said, "wouldn't it be great if we had high-speed rail here?.. you could live in Cleveland and work in Columbus!" Frankly, I don't think it would be very great.
To start, there seems to be an assumption that high speed rail will be very affordable. There is really no basis for this belief. The Acela line in the Northeast (and the closest thing we have to high speed rail in this country) has very expensive fares. To travel from Philadelphia to New York City (about the same distance as South Bend to Chicago) can cost over $100 each way. Doing that twice a day for a week would run you a thousand bucks. Even if they cut you a big discount for being a frequent rider, the price tag would still be very high.
The reality is that the hour-trip promise is a station-to-station estimate, which doesn't take into account that almost nobody lives or works on top of these stations. At the end of the day, you're still looking at a round trip commute well over two hours. It's hard to see it being a realistic option for many people. It's just too far. We should really stop thinking about distance in terms of time, and start thinking about distance in terms of, well, distance.