Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama ♥'s (even more) SUPERTRAINS!

posted by Armadillo Joe

On Thursday, Obama remarked about our rail infrastructure and because it happened in the chronological vicinity of the release of the torture memos, it vanished down the memory hole rather quickly.

But car-centric "thinkers" like this moron at have reliably swooped in with the usual lists of one-hundred and one reasons why we can't and won't have a rail network in the United States ever at all, which usually all boils down to the objection that trains don't work like cars and so aren't a decent substitute, nyah.

What these people always fail to grasp is that a rail network transforms the human relationship with the land, that a car-scaled infrastructure is by necessity not a human-scaled infrastructure -- which anyone who has ever tried to exist in Los Angeles without a car for any length of time will immediately understand. What's more, when morons like the one I mentioned above say brain-dead shit like this:
What he did not address, though, is how much people will have to pay once the rails are built. Right now, Amtrak is a luxury product. One-way tickets from Washington to New York City currently start around $70. During peak times, that can rise to $140. On the ultrafast Acela, tickets start around $100 and quickly reach double that.

The bus? That costs $25. And it has wi-fi. (So does Amtrak at a few stations.)

And the Northeast Corridor is the busiest train route in the country. In other regions, where there won't be as many travelers—say, Chicago to St. Louis—there won't be the same stream of revenue to cover costs, which means either higher ticket prices or more government subsidies.
See anything wrong with all the underlying assumptions in what he wrote, aside from his classification of the plodding Acela as ultrafast? (hint - he seems to take the letters F-R-E-E in the word "freeway" literally.)

The fact is that Amtrak is expensive and a "luxury" product because, at the apex of the Rethugli-twit driven deregulation fetish -- when the U.S. Government was divesting itself of any vestige of anything even vaguely kinda-sorta socialist or semi-fruity and, you know, Yurp-een -- Congress decreed that Amtrak should be financially self-supporting within five years in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.

For countless very complicated reasons, much like the average Rethugli-doofus' squirrely ideas about Bush's Clear Skies Act or abstinence education or No Child Left Behind or bringing democracy to the Middle East, this plan was doomed to failure because it was never advanced in good faith in the first place. Instead, like the above mentioned Orwellian double-speak endeavors, the ARAA was intended to kill the thing it purported to advance. The Rethuglicans intended the ARAA make passenger rail unbearable, inefficient and generally poorly executed by starving Amtrak of the subsidies it needed to function smoothly under the guise of "free markets" to extinguish any lasting vestiges of favorable opinion of rail travel in this country for the ultimate benefit of the petroleum and automobile industries -- IMHO -- with the added side-benefit of sticking it to all those snooty, train-riding Northeastern Yankees who tended to vote Democratic anyway.

Thus, by placing the unreasonable burden on Amtrak of being financially self-supporting, the GOP doomed Amtrak as the standard-bearer of rail in the United States to failure because, as any country with a decent rail network has learned, the expense of building and maintaining the physical infrastructure, navigating the witch's brew of local, state & regional politics during the planning phase, obtaining rights-of-way and even researching and developing the technology of the train engines themselves all amount to a too hefty burden for any one private institution. An efficient and well-run rail network is a perfect example of the ideal function of a so-called "socialist" government and even in a semi-private rail network like we have here, to be truly functional the rail system must be heavily subsidized.

The above-mentioned author's fetish for roads and automobile travel seems to derive from an assumption that car-culture (from publicly-financed road construction to FHA loans that favor newly-constructed exurban sprawl over renovated urban density) is not itself heavily subsidized. Somehow, he thinks rubber wheels on pavement represents a cheaper alternative to the expensive "luxury" of train travel because the Happy Motoring culture is -- apart from the expense of buying a car and gassing it up -- ecologically, economically and morally cost-free.

Because he's a moron.

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