Michelle Bachman’s last train ride from Duluth
“Stop the Train” was, literally, a rallying cry for post-Tea Party Republicans this past November.
Newly elected GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have canceled already-funded high speed rail projects.
Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be. A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”
Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis. Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.
For example, passenger rail inherently requires central administration. After all, trains cannot depart from a station without authority from a central dispatcher. This very need for central authority is unique to rail and frightening to those who yearn for an individual freedom from authority…
Second, a passenger rail project labels a route as an “urban” corridor, and provides the infrastructure and incentive for even more urban development. This contradicts a vision of America, held by many, as a small town society centered on the automobile. In reality, rural towns continue to decline. The 2000 U.S. census classifies 79% of the U.S. population as “urban…”
It is difficult for many to accept the impact of these population trends. Many legislators who are otherwise hostile to passenger rail accept that Amtrak’s operations in Boston-New York-Washington are “profitable,” or commercially viable, but characterize the East Coast as a region not representative of the United States. It’s full of Yankees…
Third, most opponents to high speed rail simply have no experience on which to base their opposition. Those wishing to “Take America back” frequently glorify America between the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations, the peak of automobile enthusiasm in the United States…
Take a look at China. China was still operating steam locomotives 10 years ago. China has invested $292 billion in its railways in the last five years. By 2014, China will have twice as many miles of high speed railway as all the rest of the world combined.
For some, the Chinese investment in passenger rail signifies a forward-thinking investment in the future, and something to be envied. For others, it is further evidence that passenger rail is only appropriate for a planned economy, and incompatible with the American way.
But, then, what would you expect from dimwits who would rather drive a new version of their father’s Buick instead of something that reflects real family size, how and where you travel – and costs less to run?