High-speed rail carries high costs, Walker says

Friday, February 12, 2010

From an article by Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said Thursday the state should pass up the federal government's offer of $823 million for a high-speed rail line linking Milwaukee to Madison and Chicago - unless millions more for operating the line come with the deal.

That's unlikely, he said. Based on what's known about the high-speed rail plan, Walker said he would reject the federal largess.

The county executive, a Republican candidate for governor, said he might back the high-speed rail idea if "there was a model that could be shown where it was self-sufficient, where the operating costs were covered by the users." He acknowledged that also was unlikely.

Walker warned against hidden costs linked to the line, which he said ultimately could lead to cannibalizing other state transportation projects or prompt some new tax or fee. "There's no appetite for a tax increase," Walker said.

He also questioned the basic premise of the line, saying the ticket cost likely would be too high to attract enough riders. Walker said the fast trains wouldn't be as swift as driving a car, when factoring in time needed to get to the Amtrak station in Milwaukee and time to get from a proposed rail station at the Madison airport to the state Capitol or other Madison destinations.

Gov. Jim Doyle and other high-speed rail advocates must show where the money would come from to operate the rail line, Walker said.

"If they can't, then I don't know how you take" the money President Barack Obama announced for Wisconsin last month, Walker said. He compared that large sum of federal money with a person winning a Maserati sports car in a raffle and not being able to afford the insurance.