38-minute Philly-NY Amtrak: Who benefits? Who pays?

Promoters of higher-speed, taxpayer-subsidized Amtrak trains whizzing around the Northeast - 38 minutes Philly-Manhattan, 60 minutes Philly-D.C. - will rally at the Union League on Wednesday to hear Amtrak vice president Al Engel promote the concept.

Then Center City District boss Paul Levy will convene a panel including John Connors of Brickstone Realty to talk about "how high-speed rail service could transform Philadelphia and the region."

Transform - for whom? To commute on the existing Acela trains, at close to $300 round-trip Philly-New York, you need to make a few hundred thousand dollars a year for the savings over New York housing prices (and metro New York commuting times) to make the Philly-by-fast-rail option worthwhile.

But yes, it works - if you're a high-paid professional or business owner - or a condo and townhome seller: Amtrak's Acela trains - 30th St. Philly to 34th St. NYC in 1:10 - have already made Center City attractive as a bedroom community for commuters to New York and beyond. And 38-minute trains will no doubt boost Center City housing values further, as more New Yorkers take advantage of our still-way-cheaper home prices.

It's not so clear that commuter attraction will deliver jobs to Philadelphia. As high-end homeownership has transformed Center City, business growth hasn't kept pace. We have more and better restaurants to support the growing population, but office jobs, office space and office rents have been flat for 20 years. Would faster trains change that?

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