30 January 2010

Magic bullet trains

I agree with Kunstler on the latest tiny wad of borrowed cash being tossed at high-speed trains.

Readers know that I regard fixing the US passenger rail system as hugely important.. But this strikes me as a somewhat deceptive venture. First, bear in mind that $8 billion is way way less than Obama shoveled into rescuing the car companies (not to mention the banks, the GSE's, et cetera). It's not very much money for truly shaping up a national network. I maintain that real high-speed rail is far less important than fixing the regular-speed system that is still sitting out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be restored. In fact, I regard high-speed rail proposals as a species of techno-grandiosity, given how bankrupt we are. I maintain that the public would be delighted to ride trains that went 70-mph and ran on schedule. Anyway, my sense of the proposal at-hand is that it mostly represents research-and-development, and that little actual rail service may come out of it. That said, I hope it works out better than I suspect it will.

These are trains that will cost more than planes to ride so I'll probably never get a chance to ride one. Politically, they're winners. Obama wants to be associated with fast cutting-edge technology (although these trains are old technologies at this point) and doesn't want to propose something as boring as fixing the decrepit U.S. mass-transit system that exists. Of course, an even more substantive change would be to create denser and more livable housing clusters in big cities and then create excellent bus systems that ran constantly, were cheap, and ran on time with lanes devoted solely to buses. That said, at least it's money that isn't being used to buy a couple new jet fighters that will never be used.


libhom said...

I disagree with much of Kunstler's analysis. Most of our slow passenger rail system is doomed because it can't compete with air travel for trips longer than NYC to DC or Boston, where it performs quite well. High speed rail is used widely in Europe, and is a critical aspect of fighting global warming and our dependence on foreign petroleum.

Having said that, high speed rail certainly is dramatically underfunded, even in this proposal. Local subway systems have gotten totally ripped off by the stimulus plan's priorities too.

Public transportation and bridge repair should be most of the funding that is currently going towards roads.

Karlo said...

Personally, I'd much prefer to take a train anywhere at pretty much any speed as long as it was affordable. I like train travel. I wonder what the true costs are if we subsidize it to the same extent as our public highway system.

David said...

I live in East Asia, and excellent, safe, convenient & affordable high-speed rail is already a boring ordinary part of our life. Soon to be even more-so, as China brings 44 new lines on (!!). Far better than flying! What the hell is wrong with America, to have fallen so backwards...? Is it just the power of the car & oil corps that prevents the obvious from being done?