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Window shopping can be fun, as long as someone among the shoppers remembers to check the price tag and serve as resistance to the lure of a desireable, but overpriced, item.

Over the years here in Northwest Arkansas, advocates for transportation alternatives to the Almighty Automobile have from time to time felt the tug toward high-speed rail. That's especially true for the Interstate 49 corridor, which sees constant use that becomes quite heavy in those morning and afternoon crunch times.

What’s the point?

As desirable as passenger rail seems, its costs will continue to make it unreachable in most U.S. regions.

Wouldn't a fast train, quickly shuttling people from A to B, be outstanding? Would train travel in general be a welcome addition to the nation? We think so.

Then the danged bean counters come along and spoil things. Years ago, ideas of a high-speed train in our corner of the state never quite gained traction as the quoted price tags - land acquisition, construction, annual operating costs -- put it far out of reach, particulary compared to the other needs in the region.

Most recently, a state-commissioned study of high-speed rail between Texarkana and Little Rock -- with a possible extension to Memphis -- showed construction and operation costs, as well as ridership numbers, that boils down to this evaluation: It's not cost-effective. No where near it.

Advocates for such trains suggested the study was flawed by not looking seriously at the inter-state connections, but the economics that stand in the way of high-speed rail in the United States represent a serious barrier. Our nation is one of fairly low population density. Our cities themselves are not always strong on the internal mass transit systems necessary to supporting trains (when a rider gets off a train, he's still got to get around somehow).

Will all that change? Maybe. Fans of trains as transportation say the advent of autonomous vehicles will reduce the need for big parking lots, increasing opportunities denser housing. Those vehicles will also help move train travelers around easily when they reach their destinations.

The challenges remain huge, to the point we don't foresee rail as a viable option for decades, if not longer, even as we wish it wasn't so.

Commentary on 02/11/2020

Print Headline: No room for rail

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