New York Times, here is yet another reason to vote Republican this fall. A number of gubernatorial and other candidates are running on their opposition to high speed rail, a large down payment on which is contained in the stimulus bill passed last year. What do these candidates have against 200 mile an hour trains, one might ask? Would they prefer that the federal dollars be spent in other states, to keep unwanted construction projects out of their jurisdictions? Or do they just hate the idea of people riding in fast trains, since it is so much more efficient and enjoyable for Americans to stand in those long security lines at the airport?
Perhaps the real reason these politicians are trying to stop the trains is that they want to promote tourism to the United States. See, the French and the Japanese and the Chinese take their modern bullet trains for granted. It is getting to be old hat for them to be able to whisk themselves from city to city at enormous speeds with no traffic. When they need a break from these conveniences, they are going to want to visit a quaint, old-fashioned country with outmoded forms of transportation. They will want to experience travel in poky little gasoline-powered vehicles, get stuck in traffic jams, and search for highway rest stops. They will come here in droves to see what life is like for people who still cling to 20th century forms of transportation, even after the rest of the developed world has adopted fast, efficient, clean new systems. Just as Americans now go to Amish country looking for an idyllic slower-paced way of life, soon tourists from all of the more developed parts of the world will flock here as an escape from the hustle and bustle of their usual existence. Americans will find plenty of employment selling trinkets and displaying our folk customs and old-fashioned ways to these visitors. Why should we bother to try to lead the world in technology any more?
Anyone who believes that this modern world is just too new-fangled for us poor simple Americans, and that Turkey can afford high speed rail, but the United States of America cannot, should vote Republican. The party of "No we can't!"
On a more serious note, I want to reference a couple of other quotes from the New York Times article, lest I be accused of turning transportation into a partisan issue. First from Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood, a Republican, who compared the proposed high speed rail network to the interstate highway system designed under President Eisenhower: “The bottom line is that high-speed rail is a national program that will connect the country, spur economic development and bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S.” La Hood tried to imagine what would have happened to states like Ohio and Wisconsin had they declined to be connected to the national highway grid back in the 1950's. The article also quotes John Robert Smith, a former Republican mayor from Mississippi, as follows: “Any notion that somehow rail is subsidized, and other modes of transportation aren’t, is simply not factual . . . . Honestly, transportation infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. When you talk about good transportation solutions, they cross party lines.”
Of course there are always legitimate issues of feasibility and cost, but we should be careful of letting blind ideological opposition to all kinds of government infrastructure programs--except roads and military spending, which for some reason are more likely to get a pass from Republicans--get in the way of building the kind of first class transportation system that this country deserves.
(photo of Turkish train from treehugger; horse and buggy photo from Texas Escapes.com)