Oh, politicians, environmentalists, and their choo-choo trains.
Over in the New York Times, Jason Plautz of Greenwire tries to compare Obama’s bullet train to Eisenhower’s push for an interstate highway system.
The piece quotes Federal Railroad Administration chief Joe Szabo as saying, “In the 20th century, our vision led to the Interstate Highway System. In the 21st century, our vision will give us a world-class network of high-speed passenger rail corridors.”
The article goes on to hit all the normal buttons: how trains will help us reduce our dependence on oil and cut carbon emissions; how it would put people to work; and how it would boost commerce and improve the economy. It also draws all sorts of parallels between the interstate highway systems beginnings and Obama’s work in trying to get high speed rail started. For example, the article talks about how Eisenhower was “amazed” at the autobahn and then goes on to quote Obama’s speech where he talks about how great high-speed rail and public transportation is in other countries and how we don’t have it here.
Jason, Joe, and Barry, we have some news for you: Railroads are not highways. And Ike didn’t push for an interstate highway system because of jobs or commerce.
Conveniently left out of the article was the fact that when Eisenhower was a wartime general in Europe, he noted how the autobahn allowed the Germans to move troops and supplies even when we had bombed out their trains. Trains, he noted, were single points of failure, where one bombed out bridge or junction would bring the entire system to a halt. As president, Eisenhower was faced with the Soviet threat and the Cold War. He knew that if the Soviets were able to take out a few strategic points in the United States, we would be incapable of effectively waging a war. As such, he pushed for the interstate system to be built. The economic benefits of the interstate system were not the intent, but a by-product. Eisenhower and his team realized that what was good for the military would also be good for the economy, so they used that to package the program and — in good fiscal policy — made sure the project was budget neutral. (A far cry from the billions in subsidies and stimulus grants the federal government spends on passenger rail already.)
We migrated away from trains in this country because the interstate highway system was better. We already had a passenger rail system in this country in 1950, but the numerous advantages of the highway system beat the rail system in the marketplace, and passenger rail has taken its proper place in the back seat of the family car… on the hump. The interstate system allowed faster speeds, less cost, more convenience, fewer and shorter delays, and more freedom than the passenger rail system.
Everyone who champions passenger rail in this country forgets one important principle of the cars-versus-trains debate: Americans love their cars because cars are the embodiment of freedom and independence. It’s in our blood. And no amount of federal subsidies can take that spirit away.
Want to read more on our take on choo choo trains? See our other post, A Childlike Fascination – ed