Advocacy and high-speed rail

Commentary from Andrew Lodriguss

Advocating for better transportation in a country dominated by political special interests can be like walking through a minefield. America is an anamoly in the world owing to the fact that transportation policy in this country is often rigged to the benefit of aviation and automotive industries; And in our halls of government criticism to the idea of transit is everywhere. One of many reasons for why expansion of existing transit in the US is often subject to political skepticism is because of how hard it is to use existing transit given many instances where it just doesn’t serve meaningful activity centers.

In California, a state which prides itself as being a beehive of innovating minds, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco be damned! Your new governor, a slick politician named Gavin Newsom, has decided that the already-under-construction portions of High Speed Rail will be the only ones to see their completion in the next decade. The cities which are going to have high speed rail, Bakersfield and Merced, are hardly the kind of activity centers that will offer a meaningful use case for HSR in future years. It is a macroscopic case of the all-too common syndrome of American transit planners. They simply will not boldly seek the substantial capital to put transit in places where it can offer meaningful connectivity– in America that is precisely what we sit back and let the highway planners do (to the chagrin of people who have traveled all through Europe without having to sit in a single traffic jam. Interestingly, European planners do not look at transit as being welfare– they see it for what it is: basic and viable transportation).

Us rail advocates do not want the government to plunge us into a trillion dollars of debt so that we can have shiny toys. We want a robust multimodal transportation grid that capitalizes on safe and widely available technology. But the governor has set rail advocates up to look like trigger happy debt fanatics owing to the fact that 10 years from now we’ll be trying to celebrate and call for the expansion of a French-style bullet train link which is skimming for passengers in city pairs that are analogous to pairs like Little Rock to Springfield, or Des Moines to Rochester: places which are simply too remote to see a vast boost in quality of life from the onset of blockbuster infrastructure.

Governor Newsom shot the bullet train to appease special interest groups and help lay a path to re-election. Once again, politics has defeated the case for rational human connectivity.

In Texas however, a project is being built in the image of a privately-funded infrastructure concept which will link Houston to Dallas via a bullet train whose trip time from hither to yon will be just 90 minutes. In due time Californians will raise quite a hissy fit over the opportunity their state is missing by failing to capitalize on the benefits of a transportation link which can ease traffic congestion, enhance the safety of intercity transportation, provide a use case for renewable energy, and offer more freedom to the commuting public in where they wish to domicile knowing that a fast, safe, reliable trip to and from work is available quite seamlessly.

This statement is truly yours from the desk of Andrew Charles Lodriguss: Board Director and liaison for Grassroots advocacy with the Rail Passengers Association and Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Railroad Passengers.

Keep in mind that my statement is not an official policy statement of either organization which I represent in a leadership capacity. Please consider a membership in the Rail Passengers Association: America’s largest nonprofit organization which acts as THE voice of the transit & rail passenger.

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