Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

USA is way behind on high speed rail, and it’s not all bad

One of the recurring themes here at TFA concerns the woeful lack of a balanced transportation system and the failure of American political leaders, Many of us have suspected that this would give us an advantage on the “learning curve,” and Keith Dierkx makes that point in an excellent column for

Dierkx is director of the Global IBM Rail Innovation Center in Beijing. He points to China’s expeiences, along with Russia and Taiwan.

In this mobile era, passengers expect to be able to use their cellphones to book train travel. Advanced data analytic systems can perform scheduling so that seats are effectively assigned as passengers get on and off at stations along a line. All of these advantages are available today, thanks in part to the experience of other nations, and federal stimulus funds will help pay for them.


Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

How to talk to conservatives about transit, high speed rail, and the meaning of life

Well, we may have to leave off that part about the meaning of life and just leave it to Monty Python. Nonetheless, there is a communication gap and there may be a realistic way to bridge it. An alert reader sent a link to an excellent interview on Infrastructurist.

Matt Dellinger spoke with William Lind, director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation and the co-author, with the late Paul Weyrich, of the recent book Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation.

This expansive Q&A covers many topics of interest to those of us who propose balanced transportation policies. Among those issues is one often hashed out in our comments section.

Another idea that’s pervasive is that public transportation is subsidized but the gas tax fully pays for highways.
That’s a powerful argument the libertarians make to conservatives, and it’s bunk. The current dominance of roads is due to massive subsidization by government which through most of the twentieth century competed with privately owned, privately operated railways including streetcar systems that had to pay taxes. Every conservative understands very quickly what happens when you tax one mode and subsidize the other. The taxed mode disappears and the subsidized mode becomes dominant. Nothing about our current imbalance in transportation is a free market outcome. Not in the slightest.

The notion that the gas tax covers all highway expenses is a notion that will send any state Governor into fits of laughter. The highways require enormous support, local state and federal, that goes well beyond what gas taxes bring in. So it’s not a question of a subsidized mode versus an unsubsidized mode.

Lind also expresses skepticism over federal spending on true European-style high speed rail and, consistent with our philosophy (proving beyond all possible speculation that it must be the correct position), and proposes improvements in regional rail networks by increasing speeds to the 110 mph range.

There is much material on local transit issues, but the philosophic issues are well handled and broadly applicable. It’s a must read.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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July 2009