High-speed rail would, in other words, turn Rust Belt distances into northeast corridor distances, while also shifting the Rust Belt closer to the northeast corridor. It would increase the return to doing business in every city in the region. It would be the Erie Canal and the original railroads on steroids.
And here’s the thing — California is estimating that its 800-mile high-speed rail network will cost it about $45 billion over twenty or so years. The actual cost will probably be higher than that, and a Midwest network would be larger and therefore more expensive, but the total cost is in the same ballpark as the $50 billion in aid automakers are begging for (which wouldn’t even be spread out over a period of years).
Avent's questions come in the context of assessing the proposed auto industry bailout, but it's a worthwhile reminder of the economic stimulus value of high speed rail. It can help a struggling region grow its economy through proximity to regions that are doing better. Affordable and rapid transportation that connects the Bay Area to Southern California, the Central Valley to the rest of the state, Orange County to LA and Silicon Valley to downtown SF, generates its own form of economic stimulus.
HSR's value is that it provides fast trains over long distances. It's not just upgrading existing commuter rail corridors, although that's part of it and is quite valuable. It's also providing new forms of transportation service along routes where it either doesn't exist or is inefficient. (I love you, Coast Starlight, but you're not exactly an efficient passenger rail solution to north-south travel.) That means economic growth that gets generated in one place can have beneficial effects on other parts of the state. In the past the only economic ripple effect has been sprawl - Silicon Valley-fueled growth of housing markets in Modesto, for example, which was not sustainable economically or environmentally. HSR provides a very different kind of economic networking that is more fruitful for the entire state.
Another argument to keep in mind as we prepare to take the HSR fight to Capitol Hill...