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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Can't I just be pro-transportation?

By Ezra Klein

It took me a few days to put my finger on what I found so strange about my colleague George Will’s take on trains. In Will’s view, support for high-speed rail is a “disorder [that] illuminates the progressive mind.” More specifically, “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism. To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends.”

I think sensing socialism behind various preferences for rail policy says more about the speaker than those being spoken about. Take, well, me. My household owns a car. When it breaks down, we will purchase another car. And yet, I think it’d be good for this country to have better mass transit and better high-speed rail lines. Why? Well, my car is good for some things and bad for others. It’s good for going to get dinner in the suburbs, or furniture from Ikea. It’s bad for driving around Washington’s insanely crowded city streets during rush hour. It’s good for picking up a used chair I bought on 14th Street. It’s bad for driving to work, as parking costs $15 a day. It’s good for getting to places an hour or two away. It’s bad for getting to New York, as I don’t have a place to park, don’t want to drive while I’m there and would like to use my transit time to get some work done.

There’s no either-or here. No endless war between the car lovers and the train enthusiasts. I come from Southern California. We have a lot of cars down there and not much in the way of alternative transit options. Driving is a nightmare, as the streets are overloaded. Living in Washington has been a vast improvement for me: The subways and Amtrak take me where my car has trouble going, and I use my car for the errands and travels that suit its strengths. And as long as my tax dollars are going to subsidize transportation networks, I’d like them to subsidize a sensible transportation network such as Washington’s, not the endless traffic that I escaped when I moved away from Los Angeles.

In his piece, Will admits that most supporters of improved rail tend to say they want “to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use.” He then says the length of the list, plus its “flimsiness,” points towards his more esoteric interpretation. But perhaps people just support rail for all the reasons they say they support it! Why is that so hard to believe? And why does it have to be conscripted into the endless war between individuality and collectivism, or even cars and trains? I had some vanilla ice cream last night, but it wasn’t because I hate chocolate ice cream and the decadent, globalized culture that produced it.

By Ezra Klein  | March 3, 2011; 3:30 PM ET
 
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Comments

car-hater

Posted by: js4981 | March 3, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

The conservative mind can't process that many reasons. They like to keep it simple.

Why should we cut taxes for the rich?
"Because people deserve their hard-earned money"

Why should we cut aid to the poor?
"Because they're lazy slobs that don't work hard enough"

It's a reason why slow thinkers tend to keep right.

Posted by: will12 | March 3, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

No, no, you're missing the point.
Everything liberals do is motivated by their desire to turn all Americans in to soulless automatons bereft of choice or free will, whether they're aware of it or not. The only way to save America is to round up all liberals into communes, where they will be condemned to wear natural fibers and eat locally-grown food while discussing independent films and having frequent, protected sex.

Actually, that sounds pretty good.

Posted by: TomServo | March 3, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

It's pretty simple:

- Transportation is expensive.
- Moving people around is difficult.

Posted by: dave231 | March 3, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

http://xkcd.com/610/

Don't forget the alt-text!

Posted by: will12 | March 3, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

You have to separate rail from HSR. No one I know is against rail. HSR however is a horse of different color for the following reasons:

- HSR lines by definition make very few stops

- separate tracks have to be built for HSR, or old unused ones must be redone. Freight trians and HSR don't use the same track

- no rail line in the country would be profitable carrying passengers only as HCR does Freight subsidizes passenger traffic, for EVERY line that does both.

- HSR ticket prices will have to be heavilysubsidized or ridership will be minimal. The amount of people carried will be tiny

- HSR trains are not manufactured in this country, so the only money going to US companies will be for the road beds and/or demolition work.

- a comparable investment in any major highway will carry both freight and all classes of vehicles by a multiple of several thousand as compared to that same dollar amount of HSR

That's just for starters! LOL

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 3, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

"It's a reason why slow thinkers tend to keep right."

Speaking of "say[ing] more about the speaker than those being spoken about"...

Posted by: justin84 | March 3, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Never mind the chocolate vs. vanilla wars! Only a liberal progressive socialist collectivist eats ice cream in the winter!

Posted by: consideract | March 3, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Conservatives hate high-speed rail because by and large they don't live in areas that would benefit from it. Liberals tend to live in cities, which often require travel from one place to another. Conservatives tend to live in less-populated areas and can't see the importance of moving people around far distances.
Generally, conservatives hate things that would benefit anyone but themselves.

Posted by: workmonkey | March 3, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I am fairly sure George Will loves baseball because of its socialist qualities- all players are equal on the field, no one is above the game, yada yada. Perhaps he sees all of life through a socialist lens but can't figure out of he likes it or hates it.

Posted by: aml_lewis | March 3, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

workmonkey wrote:

"Conservatives tend to live in less-populated areas and can't see the importance of moving people around far distances"

That's why they don't have airports in red states, right?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 3, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Once again, this is a battle of comparisons drawn with poor perception. How much does the US subsidize road and bridge construction and maintenance? It's probably pretty vast. Do our roads generate profit to the government that covers the costs of construction? Why should we expect Amtrak to? These are both public goods, the benefits of which are indirect, the latter of which has not really been given a fair chance to prove itself, owing to very substantial private interests lobbying hard against it.

But forget all that. I just want a Metro line from Northern Virginia out to Montgomery Co. that doesn't require switching trains in Metro Center. Loop Line ftw. I invite George Will to drive my comparatively tame-for-the-region commute on the Beltway daily for a month and then revisit his opinion.

Posted by: arm3 | March 3, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

“the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism."

This comment by Will highlights how desperately he needs an editor who is willing to occasionally ask, "How is this consistent in any way with reality?"

Much of the past 60 years of American life could be described as a war between conservatives and liberals over adherence to rigid social/cultural norms, with liberals on the side emphasizing individual freedom. Will ignores or overlooks this fundamental dynamic apparently because liberals are generally more amenable to national solutions to, well, national problems. However, in doing so, he inverts the basic character of these two ideologies.

Posted by: Fishpeddler | March 3, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"- no rail line in the country would be profitable carrying passengers only as HCR does Freight subsidizes passenger traffic, for EVERY line that does both."

As opposed to the lucrative federal highway system?

"- HSR ticket prices will have to be heavilysubsidized or ridership will be minimal. The amount of people carried will be tiny"

According to what? Your crystal ball?

"- HSR trains are not manufactured in this country, so the only money going to US companies will be for the road beds and/or demolition work."

Sounds like a great way to stimulate the American economy to me. Why can't they be built here?

"- a comparable investment in any major highway will carry both freight and all classes of vehicles by a multiple of several thousand as compared to that same dollar amount of HSR"

To quote a math exam: Please show your work.

"That's just for starters! LOL"

Seriously?

Posted by: cosgrovewatt | March 3, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

The train used to be a sign of technological prowess, a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of America, and an elemental connection to the proud individuality of the west. I am not convinced (yet) that HSR, a rather sophisticated technology, is wise infrastructure spending. But George Will's petty condescension (epitomized by his cheap shot toward the president) and the way in which he imputes bizarre motives as a bid to rationalize his ideology is wearing thin.

Will usually goes quite far to explain his lasseiz-faire approach. A few months ago he wrote an article that seemed to suggest his argument for inaction on climate change is...the planet, over thousands of years, shows a remarkable ability to mend itself? That's nice, but it's not a solution to the impending changes to environments and agricultural yields that could potentially occur over the next few decades.

If he wanted to make an argument against HSR, then I would approach as an avid reader. But he is merely inflaming passions on both sides. Perhaps that is his intent. But he seems too honest to resort to explaining anything but his true feelings on the matter.

Posted by: mgoblue301 | March 3, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

--*[W]hy does it have to be conscripted into the endless war between individuality and collectivism*--

Duh, Klein. Because it's the collective that gets to pay for its construction, pay for its upkeep, and pay a little something for every rider that steps onto it.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I notice a lot of tacit apologists in comments here and elsewhere, who respond the the assertion that Will is way out on a limb by talking about how inefficient HSR is.

It seems perfectly reasonable to believe that HSR is a waste of money and doesn't produce the benefits proponents (although I'm sure there are some interesting counterarguments). What doesn't seem reasonable is jumping from that belief into the inference that the only reasonable explanation for HSR support is some kind of anti-car collectivist delusion. It's just nuts. Is there anyone out there who doesn't think that is nuts?

I'm also beginning to wonder, has Will always been this prone to completely asinine rants, or has it recently increased?

Posted by: sanjait | March 3, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

HSR does not make sense unless they add tolls on the intervening highways and/or we create a carbon tax.

John marshall brings up good points too.

But George will is an idiot.

Posted by: lauren2010 | March 3, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

i too have lived in southern california, driven on the 5 through LA, and driven down the 95 through D.C. oh so much of a lark - driving bumper to bumper, tired, stressed out, causing pollution, costing me a fortune; little did i know i was putting my say in for individualism and against collectivism. george must be spending too much time in his chauffer driven limousine.

Posted by: sbvpav | March 3, 2011 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Johnmarshall:

A number of airports around the country - especially in small towns - are subsidized by the federal government via taxes on every airline ticket sold. I'm sure George Will believes that airports and airplanes are one-way paths to socialism, as he thinks of trains? HSR fills a transportation gap. If you gave people in high-density areas the choice to take HSR to nearby cities - cities too close to fly to but too far to drive - they would.

Posted by: workmonkey | March 3, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

If you also check the Washington Examiner and the Fred Barnes from the weekly standard, there's a full court press against recent non-car-related transit spending. Why did George Will write what he wrote? Because it was the weekly assignment for conservatives, and he had to come up with something. Simply as that.

Conservative interests are the interests of the exurbs, so that will revolve around traffic relief in outlying areas and air travel from outlying airports to final destinations in exurbs, usually involving a rental car. The issue of intercity transportation of all kinds, including the capacity problems of air travel and our highways connecting major cities, isn't on their radar.

Of course, there isn't much interest in investing in highways, either-- our highways are a congested mess, but George Will's arguments basically serve as an excuse to do nothing.

Posted by: constans | March 3, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

FWIW I can't get reimbursement for business train travel if air travel is available, and our designated agent is not allowed to book trains.

Posted by: JF11 | March 3, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Road subsidies are less than a penny a passenger mile. Mass transit comes in near 61 cents per passenger mile. Transit subsidies exceed highway subsidies, in total dollars.

http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=500

//cite
The line with the highest per passenger subsidy—the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles—carried almost 72,000 passengers last year. The California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco, had the second-highest per passenger subsidy of $193 and carried nearly 353,000 passengers in 2008. Pew's analysis indicates that the average loss per passenger on all 44 of Amtrak’s lines was $32, about four times what the loss would be using Amtrak's figures: only $8 per passenger. (Amtrak uses a different method for calculating route performance).

The Northeast Corridor has the highest passenger volume of any Amtrak route, carrying nearly 10.9 million people in 2008. The corridor's high-speed Acela Express made a profit of about $41 per passenger. But the more heavily utilized Northeast Regional, with more than twice as many riders as the Acela, lost almost $5 per passenger.
//end cite

http://subsidyscope.org/transportation/amtrak/

Every person who takes the train from Chicago to San Francisco costs his fellows $200. It's a disgrace.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Take the contrapositive of George Will's argument, i.e., conservatives hate trains.

Why? What is a train other than a more comfortable bus or airplane? All are collective modes of transportation.

Why is there a partisan difference in support?

As you note, one of those three can operate with a far lesser dependence on oil than the other two.

Posted by: NoFortunateSon | March 3, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

We've sought to make planes faster and more efficient over the years, we've made cars and trucks more efficient -- even boats. Why the resistance to faster trains? HSR makes a lot of sense. And for those short trips? Bicycles. If you want to drive, go ahead, but I can get to the grocery, park the bike, and be home again faster than I ever could in a car. City life. Plus, I gnash my teeth less.

Posted by: crosspalms | March 3, 2011 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Don't anyone tell msoja how much a Shuttle astronaut costs his fellows

Posted by: crosspalms | March 3, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

To (sort-of) answer Ezra's question as to why high-speed rail has become so politicized, it's because Obama and the Democrats have made it so.

Take Ohio, for instance. Obama's stimulus allocated $400 million to Ohio for high-speed rail. New GOP governor John Kasich wisely rejected it knowing that the final cost could be billions and billions, the passenger/cost math didn't add up & showed it would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and he didn't want to put Ohio taxpayers on the hook for billions more in the future to chase completion of an ill-conceived project that could only barely get moving with "Obama money".

Instead, Kasich requested that Ohio be allowed to use the $400 million instead for highway projects and improving/adding freight rails...which would actually put people to work on things that are really needed. Obama said "no", because dang-it we're going to spend that money on high-speed rail! So Obama instead moved the money to more 'high-speed-rail-friendly' states.

So Ezra, the reason it's so political is because your side has made it so. In the face of all studies and analysis in Ohio that said high-speed rail is not a feasible alternative for the state's transportation grid and would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money, Democrats chose to force the money to be used for high-speed rail elsewhere rather than on transportation-grid improvements in Ohio that might really be worthwhile.

Yet again evidence of typical progressive I-know-what-you-need-better-than-you-know-what-you-need arrogance.

Posted by: dbw1 | March 3, 2011 6:05 PM | Report abuse

dbw1, there was no partisan connection at all, as the money was free for Kasich to take it if he wanted, regardless of his party affiliation. He simply wanted to steal the money from the American people to use on his own preferred projects in an act of partisan hate towards Obama because of a consistent, "if Obama wants it, Republicans must oppose it" fit of political pique. Kasich's spasm of partisan hatred is not something to defend, not to mention his desire to thieve money from the American people for his own agenda. His rejection of the funds was simply and act of hateful spite, and was a symptom of the fact that Republicans have made0 rational infrastructure spending into a partisan issue simply because their mantra is "if Obama supports it, we are against it."

Like how Republicans supported mandates in health insurance reform until Democrats supported it. This is all mindless partisan politics, driven by the spasms of hatred that have infected the Republican body politic.

Posted by: constans | March 3, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

crosspalms:
"Why the resistance to faster trains?"

I'm a conservative who for years has been fascinated by the concept of a high-speed train running the I-71 corridor from Cleveland to Cincinnati. I believe this is recognized as the most densely-populated corridor in the country that is without some sort of passenger rail service. So conservatives are NOT automatically 'resistant' to high-speed rail.

The high-speed rail plan Democrats in Ohio (who were in control of pretty much everything until this past election) came up with for which they were going to use Obama's high-speed rail money would have been a disaster. That's why new GOP governor Kasich kicked it to the curb.

Their "high speed rail" would have averaged something like 60mph, with top speeds of around 79mph. Amtrack estimated a simple trip from Cleveland to Cincinnati using the proposed "high speed rail" would take 6 1/2 hours, a trip that currently takes about 4 hours by car.

The problem is that no cities in Ohio have the subways or other mass-transit systems developed that can move people once the high-speed rail dumps them off in the major cities. So you would spend gobs of time hopping bus to bus, or gobs of money taking taxi's, once the train got you to one of the proposed stops. No money would be saved, and more time would be added to the average trip using high-speed rail vs just taking a car.

George Will is absolutely correct that progressives seem to see high-speed rail as the answer to all transporation issues EVERYWHERE, where in a lot of places it just simply won't work and would be nothing more than a boondoggle wasting billions (more) of taxpayer money.

And Democrats continue to politicize high-speed rail by demanding that federal funds be used ONLY for high-speed rail, and don't give states the freedom to spend the same money on what the local decision makers believe would work best.

Posted by: dbw1 | March 3, 2011 6:35 PM | Report abuse

by Will's "logic" airports should be shut down.

but then Will is wacko..he use to make some sense.. he hasnt' in quite a while

Posted by: newagent99 | March 3, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

As Krugman pointed out, high speed rail is not even really a competitor for cars its more of a competitor for air travel.

Also where is the price of oil in his list of reasons why some people think we should move to rail.

Posted by: Mazzi455 | March 3, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Not that it's really necessary to debunk George Will (his bizarre arguments speak for themselves), but I think that the high-speed rail issue has less to do with cars than it does with airplanes. That's the real competition for medium-length travel from city to city. We, for instance, have been wanting to visit friends in Minneapolis. The drive is seven hours each way, a bit much for a quick weekend jaunt, but the thought of schlepping out to the airport and spending for two $159 tickets, and waiting in security lines, and dealing with delayed or canceled flights isn't very appealing either. A high-speed train that could get us from city-center to city-center in, say, four and a half hours would beat either one of these options in a heartbeat.

I'd say Ohio would see lots of benefits from high speed rail between Columbus and, say Pittsburgh or Chicago. Have you ever driven on some of those Ohio roads? I have, and the stretch between Dayton and Columbus on I-70 is like the road to perdition. Anyone who has lived on the eastern corridor and used Amtrak to zip from Boston to NYC, or Washington up to Boston, knows the advantages full well. Roads are congested and boring, air travel takes too much time and has too many hassles. (We recently struck up a conversation with a pilot on a shuttle bus, and he said that even though he gets free tickets for his whole family, on his recent vacation he actually drove them to Florida rather than deal with the "horrible" thought of air travel.)

Posted by: JJenkins2 | March 3, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

"Road subsidies are less than a penny a passenger mile. Mass transit comes in near 61 cents per passenger mile. Transit subsidies exceed highway subsidies, in total dollars."

TOO FUNNY!
one type of accounting for roads ( don't count construction or natural diasaster repair) another for Rail (count everything)

and then the best part.. count all roads, whether they get fed funding or not , so that the numbers are lower!
whoo who.. what a jerk !

Posted by: newagent99 | March 3, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

--*by Will's "logic" airports should be shut down.*--

The choice is not between "government airports" and nothing. There is no reason in the world that airports can't be run privately.

Sadly, it might be true that most passenger train travel can't be justified on the basis of dollars and cents, but it's very difficult to tell with the inefficient, corrupt, Amtrak in the way.

By the way, I blogged it a month ago... Some of the things that Amtrak money goes to:

Civil War Museum
"Poetry in Motion"
Greentree Homecoming Dance
Jared Gold's runway collection
The "contrapuntal, dissonant, and complex" work of Morton Gould
"The 95th", a movie
An archery event
More movies
4th Grade educational materials in California and Illinois
Atlanta Hawks Home Team Hero Award.

Amtrak is a good candidate for permanent excision from the federal budget.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

--*TOO FUNNY!*--

So, amend the figures and post 'em. Let's see what you come up with.

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

constans:
"...the money was free for Kasich to take it if he wanted, regardless of his party affiliation. He simply wanted to steal the money from the American people to use on his own preferred projects..."

If nothing else, your post at least reveals your partisan hackery & desperate lack of knowledge in this issue specific to Ohio.

Kasich's decision had nothing to do with 'stealing money for preferred projects'; he followed the advice of an endless array of transportation experts and financial analysts who proved that the Democrat-proposed plan for high-speed rail would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money.

If all the experts consulted say highway improvements and freight-rail additions would work better in Ohio than some bottomless pit of spending on unproven passenger high-speed rail infrastructure, doesn't that demonstrate the very point George Will was making when Democrats DEMAND that the money be spent on their pet project instead of on the solutions experts at the local level (regardless of political affiliation) said would work best?


If you want to look for someone who is stealing money from the American people to fund their pet projects, you have to look no further than the current occuppant of the White House who borrows money from our grandkids tomorrow to fund his pet projects today.

Posted by: dbw1 | March 3, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

The bullet trains work in Japan because of the dense population. It would work on the east coast for the same reason. What is not being told to the potential taxpayers is how much more would a ticket cost a user if there was no subsidy? Toll roads work for highways why not HSR?

Posted by: denim39 | March 3, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

"--*by Will's "logic" airports should be shut down.*-- The choice is not between "government airports" and nothing. There is no reason in the world that airports can't be run privately. Posted by: msoja"

Except of course that they wouldn't make enough money, at current airline ticket prices, to stay in business, AND, they wouldn't have the ATC net needed to keep planes from flying into each other.

Other than that, why not?

Posted by: ceflynline | March 3, 2011 8:22 PM | Report abuse

"Never mind the chocolate vs. vanilla wars! Only a liberal progressive socialist collectivist eats ice cream in the winter! Posted by: consideract "

Only a narrow minded Calvinist Conservative restricts himself to ice cream only in non winter months. I'll bet you never use gooey chocolate syrup from a Hershey's squeeze bottle either, do you?

Posted by: ceflynline | March 3, 2011 8:26 PM | Report abuse

". I invite George Will to drive my comparatively tame-for-the-region commute on the Beltway daily for a month and then revisit his opinion. Posted by: arm3"

Isn't that the republican Mantra, Be afraid, be very afraid. Damn, I missed that last right turn!!!

Posted by: ceflynline | March 3, 2011 8:30 PM | Report abuse

When jet fuel is $5, $6, $7 per gallon in a few years, people like Will will talk about the failure of "Liberal central planning" to have built enough intercity rail capacity for medium-haul trips.

And he'll be a jerk then like he's a jerk now.

Posted by: RalfW | March 3, 2011 9:19 PM | Report abuse

"To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends."

Speaking of cuts in the Defense Department ...

Posted by: dpurp | March 3, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Some thoughts on the above:

When you repair a highway or widen one, the money goes to EVERYONE in that area economy, even those who individually don't use it. Freight rides over it, as do emergency vehicles etc. It's open 24/7. People can get off many places along the way.

The benefits of HSR go ONLY to the passengers. It doesn't take freight. It makes almost no stops. It doesn't run in very bad weather. It's not made in America.

OF COURSE the roads are subsidized, because they drive the economy!

In fact if you knew history, the road system is the least subsidized form of tranportation in our nation's history, and the railroads in general are the MOST subsidized.

There was no major national highway system actually worth the name until the 1950's and then only in a Defense Bill because Eishenhower pushed it!

For all the folks talking about traffic congestion that's crazy! HSR will do not one thing to change your commute to work. HSR is a long distance line between cities, that's it. So unless you live in Phily and work in NY, it means nothing to you. If you do, you have enough money so that billions don't need to be spent on your commute.

Here's a final quote from a recent article:

"He's talking about the $43 billion high-speed rail line which will eventually shuttle passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in two hours and 20 minutes at speeds up to 220 mile per hour. The first leg of the rail line, costing $5.5 billion—half coming from the federal government—will be constructed in the middle of California's Central Valley. Some critics are calling it the "train to nowhere"."

43 billion so a few thousand people a day can move between SF and LA at a speed comparable to a commuter airline. Now who doesn't think THAT's crazy?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 3, 2011 10:32 PM | Report abuse

--*Except of course that they wouldn't make enough money, at current airline ticket prices, to stay in business, AND, they wouldn't have the ATC net needed to keep planes from flying into each other.*--

There's not enough money in flying to run airports? Tell me another one.

As to your "ATC net", the FAA operation is about on a par with Amtrak. They've been trying for YEARS to upgrade the computer system.

The Canadians privatized their air traffic control system in the nineties, to great effect.

Two and a half years ago:

"The new system -- which will replace radar -- will first be launched in parts of Canada beginning in January, affecting flights between the U.S. and both Europe and Asia. The technology is slated to spread to U.S. skies, but that will take more than a decade."

More than a decade for the FAA to come up to speed, and I bet it takes longer than that.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122636472576215837.html

Posted by: msoja | March 3, 2011 10:35 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me the largest point has been missed completely: The 19th Century was far more individualistic than the 20th or 21st, and they had nothing but railroad trains. And nothing has ever created more conformity than industrial capitalism.

Posted by: bobfiore | March 3, 2011 11:05 PM | Report abuse

"How much does the US subsidize road and bridge construction and maintenance?"

About half of the funding used for our road system is brought in via fuel taxes, license fees, registration fees, etc. The other half is from general taxes, mostly local property tax. The federal highway system used to pay for itself with the gasoline tax, but hasn't for quite some time now because the gas tax isn't indexed to inflation. DoT spends in the mid-forty billions on the highway system, the gas tax brings in something in the mid-thirties.

So no, roads don't pay for themselves, nor did they typically pay for their original construction and rights of way. There are few, if any, roads anywhere in this country that have paid for every element of their construction and operation without any taxpayer money.


Posted by: brickcha | March 3, 2011 11:09 PM | Report abuse

"I'm a conservative who for years has been fascinated by the concept of a high-speed train running the I-71 corridor from Cleveland to Cincinnati. I believe this is recognized as the most densely-populated corridor in the country that is without some sort of passenger rail service. "

Actually, Ohio and France have almost the same population density, and Ohio's major cities all line up along two general axes (Cleveland to Cinci, Pittsburg to Toledo and then on to Chicago). France, in contrast, has a much more scattered pattern of major cities.

So if France can do it, so can we Ohioans.

Posted by: brickcha | March 3, 2011 11:13 PM | Report abuse

"Because it's the collective that gets to pay for its construction, pay for its upkeep, and pay a little something for every rider that steps onto it."

While soggy rides his horse to market on dirt tracks in the manly spirit of 1799, he remains hypocritically indebted to the collective for the technology that allows him to play peacock on the internets.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | March 3, 2011 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Workmonkey wrote "Generally, conservatives hate things that would benefit anyone but themselves."

What a short sighted view you have! That couldn't be further from the truth. Most of the conservatives I know are very generous with their donations and charity work. The difference is they prefer to choose for themselves how their money will be spent. With the way our government functions HSR will be another "Big Dig". Huge price tag, huge cost over runs and minimal benefit.

If progressives would actually stop and take a look at what they are getting for the money or if they actually had to sped their OWN money instead of someone else's I seriously doubt we would be having this discussion.

Posted by: kmg321 | March 4, 2011 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Will may not be aware that the majority of US car owners to do not have chauffeurs.

Posted by: cleantekki | March 4, 2011 8:31 AM | Report abuse

The hypocrisy in George Will's argument is appalling. No one can deny the fact that the tax-and-pave road system is SOCIALISM in its pureist form. Yet in order to use the system you are FORCED to pay on average $10,000 per year in automobile ownership costs according to the AAA.
This is the SAME reason tea-partiers oppose "Obamacare". Go figure.

Posted by: Binh_Tran | March 4, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Binh:

What are you talking about? This government was building roads before the words automobile and socialism were even invented. Go look at the life of Henry Clay!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 4, 2011 9:52 AM | Report abuse

The other factor is that construction of destinations/terminals for rail creates opportunities for economic development. Too be sure, economic development in the case of terminals for HSR would be different that those for, say, a new Metro station in one of the DC suburbs, but it nevertheless represents opportunities that someone would make profitable.

There's also the fact that HSR can more safely be integrated into a population center than an airport, cutting back on travel time to locations of interest. If nothing else, it makes a local cab economy much more feasible.

And anything to lower emission of exhaust. When was the last time any of us looked again at the figures for asthma in society, or respiratory illness related to air pollution from all sources? It's kind of frightening, and certainly killing more people per year than many sexier illnesses.

Posted by: arm3 | March 4, 2011 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"My colleague George Will." Wow, I'll bet you had to bite your tongue to avoid sticking any extra adjectives in there.

Posted by: stlyrface | March 4, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

arm:

Nothing you say makes sense. It's as if you were talking about your own hopes and dreams rather than HSR

-it is NOT a commuter alternative! it will have no effect on car exhaust emissions

- what is a local cab economy and why is it preferable to what? if hsr is a substitute for air travel, then the same amount of cabs would be used either way. if it's a sub for long distance car travel then the effect is also neglibible, cabs taking fewer trips, POV's taking more.

- the likelihood that there would be new terminals for HSR makes no sense. Economically, you would want to end the line at an existing transport junction such as a commuter rail or subway station not create a new one that people have to drive to and park their car.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 4, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

But you still do hate chocolate ice cream and the decadent, globalized culture that produced it, right?

Posted by: adamiani | March 4, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Since Ezra is from Southern California, where I also grew up, he may know about the so-called "great american streetcar scandal" where corporations such as GM working against the public interest bought up street car lines to put them out of business. In Southern California this happened to the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles streetcar systems. The fact that we are so reliant on personal automobiles is not because Amercians oppose "collectivism" as George Will would have it, but because it was in corporations' interests to steer people to automobiles and away from public transportation.

Posted by: Poster3 | March 4, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I think there would be new terminals, given that so much of the existing passenger rail infrastructure has fallen by the wayside in areas outside of the northeast corridor.

At the same time, due to the nature of HSR, these terminals could be closer in to cities and places people actually want to go.

I guess I was just addressing the point some people make that "you would still need to rent a car or take poor public transit in the area," yaddayadda. If you're much closer in to where you want to be, cab fare is cheaper and more feasible as an alternative to car rental.

But there's also the factor that these terminals, by already being closer to where people want to go when they reach their destination, also make better sites for economic development than, say, the airport that's 30 miles out.

From a non-economic standpoint, it's also safer, and from an environmental standpoint, less horrible.

Your arguments seem to amount to balking that the cost to set it up is too great a barrier to entry. But what are the costs of the current air infrastructure? How is FAA funded? The airport authorities? What are the pollution costs of aircraft v. hsr? What are the fuel costs? How does this play into national security issues?

Posted by: arm3 | March 4, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

arm:

Thanks for the response. I apologize for being personal. It's just most of the posts don't deal with the actualities of HSR. They deal with concepts of a society they would like to live in.

The thing about airports is that the money has already been invested. It's not as if we fund HSR, we don't need to maintain airports. We would have to do both! HSR can never REPLACE the airline.

I know one of the main arguments about HSR is that you would avoid the lines at airport security. That will last approximately one day past the first terrorist train derailment. If you think things are bad at airports, at least the plane is untouchable once it's in the air with secure passengers. How do you protect a train that will travel hundreds of miles across open and often deserted terrain? You simply can't!

Truthfully, airplane pollution doesn't matter to me at all. If you can change fuels to make it cleaner, that's great. However we're not going back in time to reduce air travel because of pollution. That's beyond a fantasy.

Rick Scott, who is not a good guy, said one truthful thing about turning down the HSR money for Florida:

"We already have a train that goes from Palm Beach to Miami," Scott said Sunday during in an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union." "Only one-sixth the cost of operations is covered by the fares."

NOBODY in the rail business is able to make a profit on passenger service, and those who are unfamiliar with railroading history don't understand that no one EVER has made a profit on rail passenger service on a consistent basis. It was always from it's inception about moving goods, not people, for profitability purposes.

Enjoying the discussion with you.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 4, 2011 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"It's a reason why slow thinkers tend to keep right."

Because they make all the money?

I tend to think the people who are primarily for wealth redistribution are those who have never made much money, are PO'd at those that do, and think "well, its not fair, because I'm smarter than *that* guy, and he's only making money because he's doing something evil/wrong/hurting the environment/crushing the lower classes".

Think it through. The people who are successful tend to be against income redistribution, the people who are not successful tend to be for income redistribution.

The problem with compromise, is if I give $1/year, the progressive says "well, if I took $2/year, I could do twice as much". The year after, it goes to $3, then $4, then $5, and it never ends.

If you object, you're not smart, you're greedy, you're narrow minded, you're *something bad*. And all most people want is to be left alone.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | March 4, 2011 8:37 PM | Report abuse

"No one can deny the fact that the tax-and-pave road system is SOCIALISM in its pureist form"

Its not. Roads are paid for *primarily* by gas taxes, which amount to a use tax. In fact, these funds run a surplus, so much so that in Maryland, they're raiding the transportation fund (a.k.a. "the gas tax") to pay for non-transporation projects.

But the way you opt out of this form of taxation is to *not drive*.

What would you call a scheme where the government forces you to spend $5-15,000 per year *just to live*?

I'll let you guess the answer.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | March 4, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

" He simply wanted to steal the money from the American people to use on his own preferred projects in an act of partisan hate towards Obama"

I'll come and buy you a car out of my own personal account if you can show me any credible study that says that high speed rail is feasible and could run without massive government operating subsidies.

I only ask that if you're wrong, you say "Yea, you're right, it makes no sense as it won't garner enough passengers, and it will require billions in *annual* subsidies to make it work in Ohio".

By the way, if you built high speed rail between the 3-4 major cities in Ohio, you'd be looking at I'd guess a $50-75B up-front expense.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | March 4, 2011 8:50 PM | Report abuse

You'd almost think George Will is an unprincipled hack whose job it is to put bow ties and pretty words on Republican talking points for the NPR set.

Posted by: AlanSF | March 6, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Many comments here, on both sides of the argument, make sense. The problem though, is many of the pro-train people really don't want to pay what the train service is really worth to them. For someone driving their car 12000 miles a year to work, their expense would be approx. $4200.00(not including parking. Ticket cost should be somewhat in line to their car expense cost would be. Even with this, rebuilding practical rail would be extremely costly and ticket prices would have to be greatly subsidized. Private companies built the rail in the 1800's, but with virtual slave labor and after they were built, many went out of business because they could not afford to maintain the service.

Posted by: mmkleine52 | March 8, 2011 8:23 AM | Report abuse

And George Will is supposed to be the legitimately intellectual Republican commentator. His argument on this subject is bizarre paranoia on the level of mental disease.

Posted by: aprilglaspie | March 8, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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