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:
- people don’t want high-speed rail running through their property or community
- high-speed rail is too expensive
For this first issue, here are a few responses:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”