A couple hundred years ago, it wasn’t at all uncommon for an American citizen to live their entire life within the confines of their hometown. Before modern conveniences like automobiles and planes, we were extremely limited in terms of how far we could travel.
Fast-forward to today, and most of us can make our way to anywhere in the country we may need to go. Unfortunately, even planes and buses are limited in terms of their ability to serve everybody, everywhere; price is, in many instances, still prohibitive. And let’s face it: plane travel is more stressful now than it’s ever been.
Because of these barriers, politicians and businesspeople alike have been trying to rally support for new train systems to connect major US cities—even when those cities exist on opposite coasts. High-speed rail, in particular, seems a far-off dream that Americans have been pursuing—without results—for far too long.
Many developed countries in the world have discovered the benefits of high-speed rail systems: China, France, Japan, and Spain have all allocated public funds toward projects of this kind. In point of fact, the iconic bullet train design used in Japan has been around for more than 50 years.
So why is it taking America so long to commit? Let’s take a look.
America, unlike some of the smaller countries listed above, is a big place. Our population is not nearly so densely packed, and our major cities are very far apart. Given this fact, planes may remain the most sensible solution for quite some time to come.
Poor Urban Planning
When traveling abroad, it’s not at all uncommon for travelers to be able to walk to most of their destinations—particularly if you find yourself in a place like Barcelona or Paris. In the United States, on the other hand, our cities tend to sprawl for miles, and are constructed in a way that almost actively discourages pedestrian or bicycle traffic. In other words: even if we managed to connect our major cities with a vast rail system, we’d still need to rent a car or a cab once we got to our destination.
The above problems are almost nothing compared to the political barriers currently in place. The United States’ transportation trust fund is practically broke; and given that, our senators and congressmen keep shunting control over our transportation infrastructure to the states, many of which are even worse off, economically speaking, and which struggle to make progress when infrastructure projects involve neighboring states.
Moreover, poor state leadership has stalled even some of our already in-progress rail projects. The Obama administration in 2009 awarded almost a billion dollars to build a high-speed rail system linking Chicago to Milwaukee. Scott Walker, then newly-elected governor of Milwaukee, turned down his state’s share of the money. It went to California instead, where they know a good thing when they see it.
Baby Steps from the Private Sector
Thankfully, while our prodigiously unproductive Congress continues to debate how best to invest (or not) in America’s infrastructure, the private sector is moving forward with—or, at the very least, publishing proposals for—the construction of various rail projects.
A company called All Aboard Florida outlined plans last year for a privately-owned and operated rail system to connect Miami to Orlando. The rail corridor would be some 40 miles long, and would provide a much-needed transportation alternative for Floridians and tourists alike.
Elsewhere in the country, states are either moving ahead with high-speed rail proposals—as Nevada is doing now with a Vegas-SoCal link—or still bickering about the details, as in Houston, where even the location for the terminal is still in limbo.
I think it’s a fallacy to automatically assume the private sector can do more quickly or efficiently something that the federal government is also capable of. But in this case, where Congress has been dropping the proverbial ball when it comes to infrastructure, maybe it’s time for a little private sector leadership.
The Looming Price Tag
Make no mistake: an organized, nationwide high-speed rail system would be hugely expensive to build and maintain. Estimates from Amtrak indicate that upgrading the Northeast Corridor to high-speed rail could cost somewhere in the ballpark of $150 billion.
Still, the money problem is not an insurmountable one; what remains is deciding on a set of reasonable and logical priorities to put our tax revenue to work. For a common sense solution, look no further than recently minted presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who maintains that a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure could net millions of jobs and shore up our roads, bridges, and rail systems for years to come. Unfortunately, people tend to write off such proposals as soon as they see the price tag, which would be a mistake.
I don’t need to remind you that we spend more on “defense” spending than the next seven nations combined, or that we keep throwing money at dead-end industries like coal and oil. If we decided that we wanted to unite our coasts with a sprawling high-speed rail system, I’m quite certain we could find the political and economic will to make it happen.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth