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Clean Transport high-speed-rail

Published on November 18th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan

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High-Speed Rail Opposition and Support



If you ask 1000 people if they like the sun, some will probably say no.  Now, high-speed rail may not be as important as the sun, but it is pretty darn important — it can save us tons of money and time, can create greatly-needed jobs, and can help us address environmental problems such as climate change, bad air quality, and water pollution.

I imagine it is for these reasons that about 90% of Americans are open to development of high-speed rail for long distance travel and over 80% think “public transit and high-speed rail infrastructure should receive a larger share of federal funding than they do now.”

I imagine it is also for these reasons that China intends to provide 90% of its population (yes, a couple billion people) with high-speed rail by 2020.

Nonetheless, with Obama promoting high-speed rail, we now have numerous Republicans and Obama-haters proclaiming that this highly beneficial transportation option is not good for the country or for regions planning to build high-speed rail lines.

We had a couple comments on recent articles related to high-speed rail that implied it was not a good transportation option and people didn’t want it, and that’s why it was being opposed by newly-elected politicians in states like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Some of the key arguments made were:

  1. people don’t want high-speed rail running through their property or community
  2. high-speed rail is too expensive

For this first issue, here are a few responses:

  1. As I hinted above, there will always be people who don’t support a public infrastructure project, no matter what it is. Central Park in New York City is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and is essential to the quality of life of New Yorkers, and it received plenty of opposition before it was created. For sure, any new project of a large size is going to have its opponents. The construction of bigger or more highways is going to run into the same problem. In fact, cars require much more space to transport the same number of people, so you could assume many more people would have their property encroached upon taking that approach and would be opposed to such projects. Nonetheless, transportation is a basic societal need.
  2. If these projects get killed and people end stuck in traffic like they’ve never seen before paying a tremendous amount of money to fuel cars running on limited and extremely expensive oil, they are going to wish narrow-minded, short-sighted people and politicians had supported the development of more efficient transportation options. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I would’ve asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said ‘faster horses’.” People are easily stuck in the past, or the present, and can have difficulty seeing what will benefit them in the future.

For the second argument, let’s look at some simple issues:

  1. As mentioned above, you can transport several times more people in a much smaller space using high-speed rail than using cars and roads. This is a simple and clear matter. Greater efficiency means lower costs, when you take everything into account.
  2. Again, peak oil is here or will be very soon, meaning the cost of driving oil-reliant automobiles is going to hit a sharp rise soon as well. Solutions to peak oil are going to be a challenge, but one clear solution is to cut oil use by using clean transportation. Those countries and regions that make the switch faster are going to be happy they did.
  3. Additionally, high-speed rail spurs economic development and helps local businesses. High-speed rail could bring billions of dollars to U.S. cities. If you want to improve the economy of your country or region, investing in high-speed rail is a good way to do so.

If these issues aren’t clear to people, we may just need to realize that information is free but that doesn’t mean everyone can obtain it or incorporate it. Everyone will never understand everything. As I wrote yesterday, “20% of Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth, about the same percentage think Obama is a Muslim, and 26% of us don’t seem to know who we got our independence from.”

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Photo Credits: caribb via flickr (CC license); victoriapeckham via flickr (CC license)

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • Mike

    Every high speed rail system in the world is highly successful and profitable! People get many new options for travel and work, and employers get a far wider pool of people to hire from. Cities get revitalized, and by the way high speed rail creates billions of dollars in real estate value. As the president said, “there’s no reason Europe of China should have the fastest trains”… its true, we have let the oil companies and road interests keep us locked into their systems and blocking us from advancing as a nation. Now’s the time for this to all change!

    • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks. I’m a fan. :D

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  • http://dottribes.com/iEV Olmo | EV Simulator

    Hi,

    I like the article and it’s bottom line: you will always find someone that is against it. If you arguments with facts, you will always get “against” facts. But If we all have NO choice, arguments go to second level.

    Speed trains work all over europe, I don’t think why it won’t work in USA…

    Olmo

    • http://www.zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      :D

  • Roy Guerrero

    To by-pass Repugs/TNutters have Obama order the US militaries to build high speed rails between military bases to move men and equipment quickly and cheaply and then open the rails to the public.

    • Edward Witt

      Genius!

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  • nathan green

    Thanks for pointing out how stupid Americans are. It is sad but true. I think we should require people to take a civics test before they can vote to empower the enlightened and not the manipulated. People used to think that interstates were boondoggles too until they actually used them. If high speed rail is such a waste then why is Finland, Russia, Spain, England, South Korea, Brazil, France, Germany,Japan, Taiwan and China currently expanding their systems.

    • http://www.zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      The thing I wonder, too, is how many Americans even realize that other countries are steaming ahead on this matter.

      • Caribb

        Excellent point. TV news where we get most of our information from sadly focuses too much on our own world and less on global developments and places/events where we are not involved. That plus everything TV news related has to be entertaining which makes it hard to get the serious message out that we’ve all really missed the boat on this technology. That being said a high speed rail does exist between NYC and Washington DC but there’s a lot more potential in the US and some in Canada for future development. Hopefully the printed press and bloggers will keep pushing for this and what it can do for our choices as travel consumers and for the rail industry and it’s suppliers as a whole. There’s a lot of money to be made here and we should really be at the forefront of this technolgy not decades behind. When you also look at cell phones and buses/cars in Europe and how more advanced they are then here you really have to wonder who is further ahead in technology, Europe or North America and now China and Asia.. we’re slipping and no one is even noticing it would seem.

  • Doug

    I’m Caribb, the photgrapher of the top photo. I’ve experienced both the Japanese Shinkansen (photo) and the French TGV high speed trains and in both cases I wanted to just rip’em off the tracks and take them home to Canada so we could experience what the lucky people in Japan and France have to enjoy. A few months later sittin on a delayed flight between Detroit And Grand Rapids I sat their thinking we’d be half way to Grand Rapids had there been a high speed train to that city from DTW.. It’s an amazing network and one we North Americans should be using big time, especially in the USA where you’ve got the population to make it profitable. It’s a little more difficult in Canada with the smaller (thinner) urban regions and tons of winter snow and ice and make maintenance more expensive.

    For people worrying and claiming “not in my back yard” I think they have little to worry about. Ironically these trains go at 300 kph at top speed and wiz by so quick you probably wouldn’t even have time to notice them let alone be bothered by them.. however I fully understand the concern and if asked if I want it running through my backyard I might be hesitant too.. however that being said I wouldn’t want to hold up installing the who concept in North America. This is where we have to find intelligent solutions to meet the greater good of all people and hoigh speed rail will give us all more options for short, regional and even long distance travel. Airlines will then have to actually face alternative competition and maybe improve their service to meet the needs of customers who might actually leave for a more viable land based option other than cars and buses. So gains all around if we can all just get past the “there is no solution but my solution” stance. Good luck to you all down there, I hope it works out.. and hopefully up here too.

    • http://www.zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      Doug/Caribb, Thanks a lot for commenting! & for the great photo. Great to hear from someone who has ridden these trains, & a lot of good perspective added. The other point that I didn’t bring up in the piece is that development follows infrastructure — HSR would encourage dense, rail-friendly development. It is a key tool for encouraging such development, which is much more sustainable in many respects. Anyway, thank you much for your comments, Caribb :D

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  • Roger Lauricella

    Zach:

    So are WE to ignore the concerns of local folks who may not (in a majority opinion) want high speed rail through their community for what ever reason?? Are we just to say sorry your concerns are not valid, we (big government) know better, take the rail and live with it?? We are not a dictatorship (yet) in the USA, government rules with the consent of the public and public involvement is solicited and required on projects such as high speed rail. You may not like that some members of the public don’t feel comfortable or want High speed rail in their community but you don’t live in their community and probably may never understand why they have concerns and/or don’t want it at all. If local politicians fail to listen and fail to respond to the local community when they DON’T want something those local politicians (county, state and city) will be voted out. Its not an issue of whether the concerns make sense in the bigger picture its that concerns exist about affects of large projects on the lifestyle and community of people in those areas. I am sure if someone was proposing a Nuclear plant in a community and that community had objections you would probably say the community had the right to object and that their concerns needed to be listened to and addressed. Would you not?? Its no different with High speed rail. The only difference is that in China very little objection and or concern or dissent is allowed.

    • http://www.zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      @Roger: it seems you missed that point of the article a bit. ANYTHING will have some opposition, but does that mean we should not do anything? should not build any parks, any roads, any power plants, and airports? I think not

      this has never been the policy of the U.S. or of any country.

      • Jose T.

        I totally agree with Zachary. Same opposition was seen in France with the Eiffel Tower, yet it was built and is now a tourist attraction bringing who knows how much money to their community.

    • http://dailypaul.com/ JT

      Good points Roger. The Federal government owns enough land (large amounts surrounding the interstate highway system) that it wouldn’t necessitate destroying homes or communities to build these lines. I’m a pro-constitution, extremely-limited government type of person, but I’m also for high-speed rail in the US. Infrastructure is one of the only valid uses of taxpayer money–the general welfare.

    • Roy Guerrero

      Of course!! Just like the freeways of the dinosaur past.

      • Edward Witt

        Genius! Of course a country does just like expanding an airport and IT IS NOT like a nuclear plant. Many countries are going HSpeed and just China. Who are pretty smart by the way.

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