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Rail’s value can’t be measured by its cost

Mr. Yost is correct in stating that for much of the U.S., high speed rail is not cost effective (The Tech, Issue 52). However, Yost’s main complaint, that high speed rail is not cost efficient, fails to note that few, if any rail projects, from the New York Subway to the Spanish AVE, are cost effective. Yost also complains that high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor failed to reduce auto ridership. Yet, he failed to note that the Acela project failed due to lack of funds, essentially making the Acela trains only slightly faster alternatives to the regular Amtrak Northeast Regional trains. In fact, rail makes up 15 percent of the modal split between New York City and Washington DC (air makes up another 15 percent, and other motorized transit, like cars and buses, makes up 70 percent).

Yost also fails to reference the business growth opportunities rail can bring, but merely mentions the obvious conclusion that high speed rail cannot solve structural unemployment. However, he fails to recognize rail’s ability to revitalize the regions it passes through (see, for example, the dramatic growth in Davis Square since the expansion of the Red Line in the 1980s). Rail also provides travel options to those who cannot afford to keep a car, or ride a plane. Rail is also just more comfortable, making it a great choice for families with young children, or busy business men and women who want to work while they travel.

High speed rail in the United States has some undeniable flaws. But most rail projects are not cost effective, yet are still popular all over the world. Measuring rail only on its financial merits ignores its other merits.

—Michelle Bentivegna ’11