As the High-Speed Rail Debate Rages On, Stanford Historian Becomes Big Critic

Historians in the News

...Another perhaps less-likely HSR pessimist is Richard White, the Pulitzer-Prize-nominated Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford, whose specialty is the American West and whose current book is Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.

White has become a thorn in the side of high-speed rail proponents for his vocal criticisms of the project, two of which you can read here and here.

KQED's Amy Standen interviewed White in November to find out just why he's so down on high-speed rail. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:

What's your take on high-speed rail?

It will not die, it's impossible to kill it. The state is going to lose money but construction firms are going to make a great deal of money, land developers around these stations if they ever complete them are going to make money. The governor stands to gain real political capital if they can spend 2 billion in federal dollars to improve employment -- the state needs jobs.

But it would be better to dig a very big hole and fill it up again because that won't cost you anything in the future.

The long-term danger is that you're going to create a white elephant in the San Joaquin Valley, which is essentially a line we have no need for and in fact there's no funding currently to put trains on it. It's never going to be able to sustain itself and the state is going to have to pour good money after bad. The plan now is to make it an Amtrak line, not high-speed rail. To spend $2 billion to do that is frankly ridiculous....

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