Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stop high speed rail!

As reported in the 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)


  1. The reasons to vote against Republicans just keep adding up. The Democrats don't have to lie or make up things. They are giving us this information every time the say "NO" and trying to make Obama fail.

  2. If you ever watch Top Gear on the BBC they often do races to get from one place to another: different countries, cities in the same country, etc... The funny thing? The car always wins. Pretty funny. This result has been repeated in England, France, Switzerland, Japan, etc. I am not against rail but I am against taxpayers shelling out billions for it.

  3. Let's see who wins the race when they build high speed rail from LA to Las Vegas or San Francisco. But more importantly than who wins the race are all the other benefits of rail construction. Opponents of rail always complain about the enormous capital costs of building the tracks, and the necessity for continuing operating subsidies. They forget that, as John Smith who was quoted in the article says, other forms of transportation are subsidized also. If you are driving, you feel comfortable that your gas taxes are paying for the roads. But what you are not paying for is the enormous waste of land that roads consume. We take the most valuable real estate in our cities and turn it over to streets and highways, which means it cannot perform any productive use, or generate real estate tax revenue. (As someone who believes in minimizing the role of government, and expanding the private sector, you should be in favor of reducing the footprint of all of that wasted public space.) We all pay for the loss of real estate tax revenue that the land taken up by freeways consumes, as well as our inability to use all that land for other productive purposes. Drivers also do not pay for the enormous pollution costs, and the health costs, and the noise costs that they are creating. Gasoline taxes do not pay for the hospitals necessary to treat all of the cases of emphysema and asthma caused by drivers. Drivers also do not pay for the costs of the delays they are causing other drivers when the roads get jammed with traffic. All of these costs are subsidized by all of us. We do shell out billions to maintain the highway and road system, and we need alternatives.

  4. Joe,

    Roads do take up a lot of space but you ignore they provide a conduit for businesses to operate, money to be made, goods to be spread out, food to be distributed, and the freedom of the populace to travel where they want. Roads have a very low cost of entry... a cheap car, a bike, a motorcycle... all may use them.

    Without roads there would be no cities, no businesses, no wealth, and no property taxes.

    I think you'd be hard pressed to find people who have asthma because of modern cars, which are extremely clean.

  5. Harrison, why do I have to do your research for you? In a two second Google search I found links to a whole bunch of articles talking about the links between auto exhaust and respiratory ailments, including asthma. Here is one New York Times report on one of these studies: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/health/research/13exhaust.html

    I know we are not journalists, but I still think we have a responsibility not to just make stuff up. Cars have gotten cleaner, yes, but I don't think there is much dispute that they still make people sick. That is just one of the prices we pay for our heavy reliance on that form of transportation. But every time you pass by a group of pedestrians waiting for the light to change, remember that they have somewhere to go, and they are also paying a price for you to drive.

    The point is not whether automobiles and trucks are useful to the economy. Of course they are. The point is that they are subsidized just like trains and planes and every other form of transportation. One of the main ways they are subsidized is that we give up a lot of property tax revenue to make space for them, and another is all the noise and smoke and death that they cause. Every form of transportation is paid for by the public in one form or another.

  6. I'm not suggesting sitting in a small room with a v12 going but the NYTimes story did say:

    "It found “evidence of a causal relationship,” but not proof of one, between pollution from vehicles and impaired lung function and accelerated hardening of the arteries."

    At any rate, diesel trains and electric train (powered by coal power plants) ain't that dandy, either.

    I have nothing against trains... just the billions required to build them.

    The thing with gas tax and DMV tax is... if you don't drive a car you don't pay them. The same cannot be said for trains.

  7. Do you ever wonder why paying taxes bothers you so much, but other forms of payment like "impaired lung function" and "hardening of the arteries" does not?

  8. Oh, that's an easy question to answer. There's an easy to follow logic behind the later prices, cost vs. benefit, risk vs. reward, cause and effect. And with technological progression the risk and cost can be reduced while the benefit and reward increases giving humanity power over their lives.

    With taxes... well, let's look at some. There is the commonly known gas tax which makes you pay more for pumping gas and the government decided to reduce emissions so they payed people to buy new hybrids and electric cars with subsidies (prius is awesome). When this worked tax revenue decreased from the gas tax so many politicians are now considering charging people for driving hybrids and electric cars because it isn't fair. Many are also pushing for special mileage readers so that they can tax people for the actual distance that they drive instead of just the gas that they use since all those people just put in five dollars instead of filling the tank, the greedy jerks. When this new form of taxation the even president Barack Obama was against when proposed causes people to drive less they will be fined for not driving their cars. Unless they use health insurance as a model in which case they will be penalized if they drive too little and taxed more if they drive too much.

    Oh, and we can't forget to charge all those selfish fat cats who don't own a car for not having one.

    If yo really want healthier lungs and arteries put on your shoes and walk. That's how I get to work.

  9. Oh, another thing to keep in mind is these high speed rails can't carry heavy cargo, pretty much the reason that trains are still around. So they can only carry people and letters thus the only truly worthwhile economic activity they generate will be ushering executives back and forth with their legal documents to sign. Unfortunately they no longer need to actual go anywhere to do that thanks to video chat, email, and faxes. Thus the high speed rail is already technologically pointless and outdated.

  10. If as you say, people never actually need to go anywhere to do anything, then airplanes are also technologically pointless and outdated.

  11. That's strange... I don't seem to see those words anywhere in what I said. It's almost as if I didn't claim that in any way. I also didn't praise airports either or present them as an alternative. I didn't point out that an even more "outdated" form of travel was still very useful to us and could do many things that high speed rail cannot. I also pointed out that any "business emergencies" that would require people to take the high speed rail from one side of the country to the other could easily be done faster and with greater ease by using the exact form of communication that would alert said business person to said emergency. As for other types of emergencies they are already met in a far more cost effective and expedient manner and do not require a high speed rail. And in regards to airports being technologically obsolete as you claimed, not I, they are a much faster way of getting across the ocean than boat and with piracy still occurring safer as well. Perhaps the money proposed to be spent on the high speed rail could be put towards more warships to combat this menace and if not then why not?

    Please, in the future do not argue against that I did not make. It is a bit tacky.

  12. Sorry Jhad if I misunderstood your argument. I do appreciate your comments and was trying to respond to what you did say, which was that the only worthwhile economic activity that trains would generate would be ushering executives back and forth to sign documents. And you went on to say that since they no longer need to travel to do that, trains are technologically pointless. My response was that you could make exactly the same argument about planes, but somehow the skies are still full with people traveling around for all kinds of reasons, generating all kinds of economic activity. And if you took a train today, you would also see a lot of people traveling for lots of reasons. If the trains were comparable in speed to flying and faster than driving, I would bet that you would see even more people taking trains. So what's wrong with having multiple modes of transportation, instead of depending only on cars and planes, which are subject to weather and other dangers as well as using a lot of energy?

  13. Due to a strange occurrence I have had to post as anonymous. This is still Jhad.

    The high speed rail (not train although it falls into the same category but is significantly different) is hardly the energy saver claimed. That rail is magnetic, which requires electricity which must be generated. Energy savings projected are done with fancy mathematics designed to hide the energy cost. And now we apparently have a magical high speed rail that will not be subject to things like ice on the rail, disruptions to power for varying reasons, thus making it pretty much perfect. Perhaps it shall be subterranean increasing the cost?

    As for the question "what is wrong with multiple modes of transportation?" Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That is why we have those modes of transportation and why there are still horses and buggies complete with their whips. The problem is when the government, with all of its current financial responsibilities and liabilities already decide to take on even more. I have already pointed out that due to the success of their "green" car program many states are instituting a financial penalty for driving said "green" cars for not using gas and some are even looking at a new mileage counter to tax people according to the distance that they drive in addition to the current financial penalty proposed and the tax on gasoline. ow we are seeing those same officials trying to create a new service to tax people for in order to claim technological superiority. The funds can be better spent somewhere else, the needs are already being met with advanced technology, infrastructures are already in place with roads, airports, and current rail systems, and the proposed technology is hardly as wonderful as presented.

    Government interference is currently the primary problem with the infrastructures in place. If a high speed rail is to be built then let it be built by private contractors and industries. Their is precedent for this statement if one were to look at the old trains. The government did take control of the railways and the train companies and promptly began running them into the ground. It was not until turning these companies over to the private industry once again did this mode of transportation once more flourish. If a high speed rail can be profitable then let the private sector fund it with profits, build it, and run it. I doubt anyone in the private industry will be interested as the "low speed" railways offer greater versatility and already have an infrastructure in place.