Michael Barone and his elitist supporters are afraid of change that might upset their comfortable gravy train. (Article: “High-speed rail plan doesn’t make sense for U.S.“) Make no mistake about it: Big Oil and the billionaire Koch brothers want things just the way they are so they can continue reap huge profits from our overdependence on oil. They don’t want us to have any real choices in how we travel. Just shut up and drive.
Barone rants that “Passenger rail is particularly attractive to planners, the folks who want to force us out of our cars and into subways that travel only on the routes they design,” as social engineering. Excuse me, but we already had the greatest experiment in social engineering in our history. It was called the Interstate Highway System, and it caused profound and some not so good changes to our society.
After WWII we had the greatest rail and public transportation system in the world, all at virtually no cost to the taxpayers. Passenger trains routinely hit 100 mph and blanketed the country. However, we, as a nation, decided to junk privately owned and operated rail passenger service and transit in favor of publicly financed highways and aviation and now we are totally dependent on the auto and foreign oil. To be sure, some change was inevitable, but the auto should be a choice, not a necessity and that’s the crux of the problem: Lack of choice
Public transportation options such as passenger trains, regional or commuter trains, light rail, buses, bicycle and pedestrian facilities are an afterthought. It simply does not exist in too many places. What about those who don’t want to drive or can’t drive, or can’t afford to own a car? These people and others are now outcasts at the fringes of society because the system discriminates against them.
All of this disproportionately affects minorities and the working poor but everyone is negatively affected by our one-dimensional fixation on the auto. Barone says automobiles are like “emerging information technologies, which let us take whatever path…we want.” That’s great if you can afford or want to drive everywhere but the young are not so enthused with autos and like to locate in areas where there is good transit and rail, so they can use the internet while traveling.
Then there is the Baby Boomer generation, whose members are starting to retire in large numbers. Many of them are well aware that their driving skills will deteriorate as time goes on and will tend to settle in areas that offer transportation choices. Retirement also means an end to commuting and business travel, all of which will only accelerate the current trend toward less driving, Barone’s assertions notwithstanding. In fact, over the past five years, driving has declined while transit and intercity passenger rail has boomed. Amtrak carried a record 30 million passengers this year and could carry far more if it had enough equipment to meet current demand and allow expansion of the current skeletal system.
Barone also complains about cost overruns for rail, while ignoring the same for highways. In fact, since 2008, $34.5 billion in federal general funds (from non-users) was transferred to the Highway Trust Fund to cover the deficit between the funds provided by the gasoline tax (from users) and the money actually spent on highways. This is almost as much as has been spent on Amtrak over its entire 40-year history. Cost overruns on individual projects is commonplace, witness the I-70/71 split here in Columbus, which was less than a billion dollars to start, but now is at least $1.5 billion. Where is Barone on this? Nowhere, of course.
So when Barone complains that the 160-mile high speed rail segment in the Central Valley will carry “virtually no riders,” a statement not based on fact, while ignoring far greater costs and problems of other modes, it’s time to start counting the spoons. People will ride, as they have in almost every other case and the line is going to be built exactly the same way the Interstates were built, a section at a time and he misses the fact that thousands of new jobs will be created. His opposition is based on illogical half-truths, distortions and outright lies and the question as to why he does this has to be: Why?
The obvious answer is that Barone is merely merely a paid mouthpiece for elitist oil-rich right wing types who are bent on killing all passenger trains (not just high speed) and transit, not only out of blind opposition to anything President Obama is for, but also to deny Americans any real choices. They also support a network of media, think tanks, lobbyists and favorably inclined politicians to deny us that choice.
The Columbus Dispatch—a conservative newspaper that editorialized against rail—does nothing to advance the debate by showing only their side of the issue. This only further reinforces the “roads are good – rail is bad” orthodoxy of the Dispatch/Kasich Administration/Republicans/Ohio roadbuilders and their supporters. Meanwhile states such as Michigan advance toward 110 mph trains while we sleep, even though they also have a Republican governor and legislature. Our loss.