If anybody has had the misfortune of witnessing the political debates of the past year then you know high speed trains have been brought into the political fray. Unfortunately, the issue of improving the transportation infrastructure of the United States has been divided along party lines, with Republicans sabotaging these projects while Democrats light-heartedly support them. Republicans claim that they don’t want to support rail projects because nobody would use them. However, as the report cited in this study and reviewed in this Fast Company article shows, the number of permanent jobs generated by high speed rail construction is astronomical. Despite the data and the evidence from around the world, Republican leaders continue to oppose anything proposed by Obama. Josh Laumer does a great job of covering this in his piece, Growing Amtrak Ridership On A Collision Course With Political Surrealism.
The sad consequence of this is that people without immediate access to trains assume the idea that trains are somehow bad or un-American. Anybody familiar with history remembers that trains were essential to the settling and development of this continent so the un-American notion can go out the window. However, as a simple proof that trains are at least enjoyable, consider a child. Any child, regardless of the political orientation of their parents, enjoys riding trains. Test that. Anybody who has used a train to travel or commute knows the pleasures of not worrying about traffic, of being able to read or sleep or listen to music as you travel. You can even get drunk on a train and not worry about a DUI! Furthermore Amtrak has experienced 17 straight months of increasing ridership. This is only bound to continue as gas prices go up and the people’s desire and ability to maintain a high level of personal debt goes down.
Despite these things, the Republican leadership continues to oppose train development. It’s sad because one look at the corporations that largely funded the last Republican presidential candidate all have their hand in the automotive industry (see them here, and of course you can see Obama here, hell, compare them to Nader here and marvel at the lack of corporate representation). No, I’m not referring to the automotive manufacturers where were essentially bankrupt around the time of the election. Rather I’m referring to the banks who benefit from the debt generated by vehicle ownership. Imagine a country where the majority of citizens DO NOT have debt related to vehicle ownership. If the majority of people rode public transportation…
Despite the economic benefits and the facts that the potential ridership is there, people continue to claim that it is too expensive. Yet, ask yourself, “how much do federal and state governments spend on building roads each year? or airports?” These are not self sufficient industries or infrastructures yet they are touted as superior to the most efficient and environmentally friendly means of transporting people. Sure, there is the problem with the absence of doorstep-to-doorstep public transit in much of the country and this affects the general desire to use public transportation, but shifting development to this, rather than failing to maintain our existing highways would accomplish a lot. The unavoidable rise in gas prices will lead more people to utilize public transportation. This trend is evident across the country. If we fail to act now, yet again our infrastructure will not be adequate to meet the country’s needs in the future. The time to act is now.
P.S. Where will the money come from? Take $50 billion a year from the defense budget and you’ll have a world class train system in ten years!