Lest you think I’m getting all political on you here, let’s poke a stick in the eye of my Conservative friends today.
Many folks who think of themselves as fiscal conservatives (perhaps even social conservatives) like to poke fun at fixed rail transportation. “It’s a boondogle!” they tweet. Well, I think they bite off their collective noses to spite their individual faces.
I love trains. Railroads built America—they opened up the West and determined where most of our cities would be built. High-speed rail or light rail, trolleys or streetcars. The system worked, albeit with a good deal of monopolistic restraint of trade, but things got where they needed to be. And the Trains Ran On Time…
…Until Detroit screwed it up with the automobile and bus, followed by Seattle’s airplanes.
Well, Detroit itself didn’t do anything to us that we didn’t do to ourselves. Most Conservatives, I suspect, love the automobile because it grants individual freedom. Who cares when the train leaves, I’ll leave whenever I’m darn ready in my automobile. Except where the train rain on time, who knows what time my car will get there dodging traffic jams, collapsed bridges, and general highway chaos, and that’s just getting to the airport. And cheaper? Um, how much tax money goes into roads & bridges & airports, highway patrol/TSA, and subsidies for imported oil that pays the terrorists who want to blow us up?
Hello, anybody listening?
I’m personally not interested in fighting this war, to tell you the truth. No one side is going to win and that’s not a bad thing. I seek only detente, a simple peace with a middle ground. I think another reason my Conservative friends don’t like trains is that Europeans do like trains. I was fortunate enough to cross the ocean once (on a plane, yes) and spend the rest of my vacation on a Euro-rail pass, traveling capital to capital across the continent. What is more individually empowering than that? I wasn’t bogged down with a rental car, we just got on the next train going in our direction. It can work, not everywhere all the time, but more places and times than it does now.
We needs cars and planes AND trains. Give people options, price them transparently, and get the heck out of the way.
The Lincoln Land Institute offers some policy advice on high-speed rail. It sounds about right to me, even though if the nation follows their advice I’ll never see rail in my future, but I suppose I could always hop a friend the old hobo way (not):
High-speed rail response
Our latest Policy Focus Report, High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers, continues to prompt a healthy dialogue about whether and how to invest in inter-city infrastructure in these difficult times. Co-authors Petra Todorovich, Dan Schned and Rob Lane all took the Acela up from New York for the Sept. 26 launch event at Atlantic Wharf, one block from South Station – the kind of transit-oriented development the report cites as keys to success for stations. Japan started things rolling with the first bullet train in 1964, and Europe and China have followed – the latter with a four-hour trip from Beijing to Shanghai, about the distance between New York and Chicago. The U.S. could sharpen its planning focus now, Todorovich said, by concentrating on markets with the best chance of success, such as the Northeast Corridor and California. The event was covered by Boston Globe transportation reporter Eric Moscowitz, who filed this story, as did Nate Berg at Atlantic Cities. The report was picked up by numerous blogs including extensive comments, at California High Speed Rail Blog, High Speed Trains, OnBoard and others. We wrote our own take in a Citiwire column, at EnoBrief, and in a guest blog post at The Infrastructurist. A short video of Todorovich talking about high-speed rail and the international experience will soon be posted at our videos page.