Evaluated with regard to their primary mission; that of offering a cost effective alternative to auto and air travel between distant urban areas, high speed rail services will be challenged to prove cost-effective or attractive enough to justify the billions of dollars necessary to construct, and to maintain long term effective levels of service. Projected use, ridership and revenue levels of proposed high speed rail systems should be revisited, and realistically analyzed before projects continue environmental studies, design and right of way acquisition processes. Results and calculations that cast doubt on the long-term feasibility of high speed rail operations should cause planners to fundamentally reevaluate all aspects of proposed high speed rail development.
Upon discovery of fundamental or systemic inefficiencies in technological, operational or financial characteristics of high-speed rail development or services, or constrained by unmitigable environmental incompatibilities, proposed developments should be reevaluated and reconsidered. If projected or anticipated failure or dysfunction in a proposed high-speed rail project should prove to be unsolvable at the outset, the entire project should be subjected to a rigorous reevaluation. No high-speed rail project should be permitted to proceed toward a dead end, or questionable viability, in spite of prearranged or preapproved funding. Squandering of resources over the short- or long-term, or on any aspect of a proposed rail plan, should be avoided by all concerned parties and stakeholders in the high-speed-rail project.
Competition with inter-city and regional airline services should be presumed to be a permanent and ongoing factor impacting passenger levels and system revenue throughout the duration of high-speed rail services. The flexibility and adaptability of high-speed rail fares, schedules and services with regard to competing alternatives should be clearly assessed in preliminary analysis on system efficiency, sustainability and viability. The significant erosion of US short-haul airline flights, in both length of flights and numbers of passengers, over the past two decades can not be attributed to high-speed rail competition, and should, therefore, prompt a reassessment of the demand for such inter-city transportation services of any type. Should realistic ridership demand, construction cost and dependable funding source projections not materialize early in the planning process, high-speed rail projects should be curtailed prior to commencement of any construction or substantial right of way acquisition.
Until the economic efficiency and cost-effectiveness of development and operation of high-speed rail systems in regional and local transportation environments has been rigorously assessed, realistic projections of high-speed rail’s development feasibility and long-term economic viability will continue to cloud the future of high-speed, as well as, all other forms of American passenger rail transportation.