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US High Speed Rail Is A National Embarrassment. A Global Comparison

The first series of this column was written on high speed rail in America. With an introduction to all the nation’s proposed corridors covered, this series will focus on the state of high speed rail around the world. An examination of already established high speed networks in industrialized countries and growing networks in developing countries will be compared and contrasted to what is being done (or just talked about then postponed) around the US. The purpose of this series is to highlight how far America is falling behind the rest of the world in giving its citizens mobility.
These articles are meant as alarm bells to policy makers in Washington, warnings that the current state of rail is both a national embarrassment and a detriment to the quality of life of its citizens.
Policy makers are not the only audience for these pieces. The series will also touch on why good public transportation is not a popular topic for average Americans, despite its fundamental importance in providing a vital freedom: the freedom of movement. Only progressives stump for high speed rail and they are in the minority. A poll conducted in 2008 showed that 60% of Americans consider themselves “conservative”.  Millions of these conservatives are the people who do not believe in supporting quality public transportation, but paradoxically use the words freedom and liberty in every topic of debate.  This will be addressed.
There are two requisites necessary for building such infrastructure:
1.) The money – Check. This country is rich…really, really rich. The US is richer than Japan, richer than France, richer than any nation, or any combination of nations, on the Earth. Money is there and can be redirected from wasteful expenditures such as war and corporate subsidies to something with more ROE for the voter, such as building mass transit and alternative energy infrastructure.
2.) The will to do so – Not there yet. For the past few decades freedom of movement has been pegged to the automobile. The turn of the last century was a time when municipalities where concentrating on destroying mass transit rather than expanding and improving metro networks. The urges of political leaders to gut mass transit to keep areas segregated or distort the transportation market towards a car based paradigm are gradually fading. Demographics and the critical mass of congestion are chipping away at these obstacles.
One factor that is stoking the political will to improve mass transit is that car ownership is becoming a large burden in this recession. Many car owners sacrifice a large chunk of their earnings monthly to keep their cars from being repossessed, full of gas and insured. A person of modest means can be severely set back by a car break down or accident that can suck hundreds or thousands of dollars out of a working class person’s wallet. As economic pressure increases, so will the calls for better public transportation.
Mass transit is in its dark ages in the US. Let us look abroad in order to usher in a transportation Renaissance.
[photo credit: clappstar]

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Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!


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