Gov. Rick Snyder yesterday in a speech at the Michigan Rail Summit proposed a vision for making Detroit the hub for a rail system serving North America as reported by the MIRS Capitol Capsule (subscription required). He envisions a rail freight and passenger system that would connect Montreal to Detroit to Chicago to St. Louis.

The symposium was sponsored by the Michigan Environmental Council. Chris Kolb, a former Democratic state lawmaker who is president of the MEC, was enthusiastic about the governor’s remarks, stating: “This is huge. If we do this right we will really start to rebuild Michigan’s economy.” It seems like we have heard that refrain before, extolling the economic virtue of green and mass transit projects only to be disappointed later when it does not quite work out the way government planners envisioned.

Before Michigan legislators get too excited about passenger rail projects, they might want to look at California’s ongoing experiment with high-speed rail. The Los Angeles Times reports that the estimated costs to complete the high speed rail linking Southern California to the Bay Area has ballooned from $43 billion to $98.5 billion and will not be completed until 2033, some 13 years later than originally scheduled.

It is hard to see where the funding will come from for massive upgrades to the existing rail system necessary to realize the governor’s vision.  It would be risky to expect the bankrupt federal government to foot the bill. Michigan officials who struggle annually in an attempt to balance the state’s books would likewise find it difficult, if not impossible, to come up with the money.

It is laudable for elected leaders to have grand visions. Michigan, however, needs to get back on track. We do not need grand visions for mass transit but instead the dedication and perseverance of leaders to the do the hard work of fixing the state’s dysfunctional regulatory system, and reforming existing tax and labor policy that is creating a barrier to private-sector job creation. Come to think of it, maybe that is a grand vision.

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