Grant McWilliams

Tech Transportation Why the GOP should support High Speed Rail

Why the GOP should support High Speed Rail

This article is a  response to and article written by David Salaverry,  the founder of the California Conservative Action Group. The article - California High Speed Rail: Part One, Arguments For posted on Fox and Hounds was an interesting slant on California's High Speed Rail project. We take it for granted that liberals will vote for HSR and conservatives won't. David takes a different tone and introduces a few reasons why the GOP should take a lead on building this infrastructure and I've taken it upon myself to add a few thoughts to his words.

Thank you for writing with this perspective David Salaverry.  I'm afraid that if the GOP doesn't start thinking about getting something done they may not be in office anymore. At some point people will see the GOP as the "No you can't have education, No you can't have infrastructure, No you can't have transportation, No you can't live here and work". If you say no to everyone no matter how good your intentions there won't be enough people to vote for you because you're completely ineffective at doing anything but shutting stuff down. The Democrats on the other hand may end up being the "Yes they spent a lot of money but at least some of their stuff worked". It's sad that "some of their stuff worked" would be considered a success but in comparison "none of their stuff worked because they didn't do anything" is a failure to do anything.

At one time in history the GOP was the anti-slavery, pro-American enterprise, pro-infrastructure party. Now they're the "you can't have money unless you're a defense contractor" party. This is a sad state for the GOP party and I think only when they start losing seats in congress will they think about addressing the real issues. You could make the argument that the Democrats aren't doing anything right too but that would be a different topic. Currently we're discussing the GOP and High Speed Rail.

The crazy thing about HSR is that it does work in most nations they build it in. Operating costs are cheaper per passenger mile (7-9 cents) than airlines (12-14 cents) and in those countries the HSR breaks even or even makes money (TGV makes $1.6B a year helping to offset local trains deficit).  I haven't quite figured out why the GOP is so against passenger rail because we're not exactly inventing something new and risky. I've come up some possible reasons. Most are arguments I've heard in forums.

  1. It costs money and spending ANY money is bad. This doesn't make sense because just upgrading the freeways and airports for the increased population for the next 30 years costs the same as the HSR as the cost analyses for California showed.
  2. Trains are old technology, planes are the way to go. This 1950's era thinking is old technology. HSR has proven to be the most efficient for trips from 100 - 500 miles. Just because these folks have never traveled beyond their local Walmart doesn't make it not so.
  3. Environmentalists push trains since they emit less Co2. Is there a negative to lowering Co2 that I don't know about? Even if global warming is a hoax making less pollution is generally considered a good thing.
  4. Putting everyone on public transportation is socialism and we don't want to be Russia. Airplanes are public transportation... we all ride together. With trains you ride in comfort.
  5. We don't like the idea that the government would own the infrastructure instead of private enterprise. Two words - Freeways and Airports. Both are owned by the state and both work wonderfully for their intended purpose.
  6. Liberals like trains and we can't support them. This is how you get nothing done in Congress. At some point people will have had enough and stop electing you. Try to agree on something once in a while. Your career may depend on it.
  7. Only rich people could afford to ride it. Like airplanes and cars. Driving your car one mile costs 55 cents. Only a fool thinks their car costs the price of gas. Everyone has to do maintenance, pay for insurance, tires, depreciation etc... The more you drive it the less your car is worth and the closer you get to having to buy a new one. Driving 500 miles (HSR's maximum) will cost you $250 whereas the train would cost you half that. Even planes are cheaper than driving at that distance. Save your car for driving short distances where it's the best mode of transportation.
  8. It won't go where I want. Trains go between cities and I'm a conservative so I live in the country. This is actually a VALID reason which is why you should be in the planning process. Trains have the ability to stop in smaller towns whereas planes don't. HSR could have an advantage if you live in the country.
  9. I don't want my tax money going toward something I'll never use. Currently about 30% of freeways are paid for directly by people who use them by way of gas tax. The rest comes from taxes collected from people who will never use that freeway. Currently Amtrak's dilapidated network of 70s era trains have an average farebox recovery (ticket sales) of 55% or nearly double that of freeways. Amtrak relies less per passenger on subsidies than freeways. HSR if done right will break even as it does in most countries thus having a lower burden on taxpayers not using it.
  10. I'm all for private companies like airlines providing my transportation, not government inefficienciesIf you think those private enterprises are surviving because they're more efficient you may surprised to learn they're heavily reliant on subsidies.  Airports are run by the government as is the FAA, and the TSA. Most every flight is subsidized to keep the airlines solvent. The subsidy varies depending on which airports the flights use and how popular it is. The average flight out of LAX is only subsidized $9. However, a direct flight from Spokane WA to Irvine CA is subsidized roughly $200. 

I'm sure there are other arguments but I haven't thought of them yet. Comments?

Tech Transportation Why the GOP should support High Speed Rail