Wednesday, October 28, 2009

US is Far Behind in High Speed Rail

This is an interesting read from Monday's Baltimore Sun. It details how the U.S. has allowed other countries to get a huge lead in the development of high-speed rail systems linking their cities. One money quote shows how we've missed an opportunity to take part in a burgeoning worldwide market:
If you want an illustration of how the American obsession with roads at the expense of rails has cost this country, look to China. That country is building an extensive high-speed rail system to connect its cities. And who is supplying its billions of dollars' worth of locomotives and railcars? Siemens (Germany), Shinkansen (Japan), Bombardier (Canada) and Alstom (France).

This is a part of the equation that the folks at libertarian think tanks don't take into account when they pooh-pooh the idea of a national high-speed rail network. They dwell on the admittedly enormous cost of building - proponents estimated it at $600 billion over the next 20 years - but not at the costs of failing to get on board. Already, our reluctance to play in the high-speed rail market, which has been around since Japan took the lead in the 1960s, has cost the United States the opportunity to be a player in one of the world's leading heavy industries. Do we surrender that to other countries in perpetuity? (my emphasis)
The article goes on to point out that pretty much every major advance in transportation infrastructure over the years--canals, the transcontinental railroad, interstates, etc--has required a major role for the government. Yes, those things cost a lot of money, but the payoff has been worth it.

If we should have learned anything from this recession, it is that there is no cosmic law keeping America on top of the world economy. Our fellow industrialized nations are our competitors for jobs and growth; at a minimum we have to keep pace with them. High speed rail is where the world is headed. If we don't lead, our place in the world will continue to decline.

If the feds can't or won't get on board with high speed rail, then this is an area where Virginia should lead. A system linking the Southwest, D.C., Tidewater and Richmond, with spurs into smaller rural communities, could have enormous economic development potential. That's why it's so important to get out and vote for Creigh Deeds, Jody Wagner and Steve Shannon next Tuesday. As their opponents have made clear, the alternative is a transportation "plan" consisting of discredited ideas that will only lead to more gridlock and less innovation.

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