By Tom Kando
The January 15 issue of the Sacramento Bee contains an excellent article, “Spain’s Trains Hold Lessons for California.”
Clearly public opinion, aided by the likes of Dan Walters (otherwise usually a reasonable man), has turned against the project. Chief Executive Roelof Van Ark has resigned from what increasingly appears to be a losing battle. The handwriting is on the wall.
The main reason for the project’s probable failure is ignorance - among the public and among opinion leaders. The ignorance stems from Americans’ increasing insularity. Most people in this country are unaware of the fact that the rest of the world is moving forward, because they do not visit or give a damn about the rest of the world.
My own personal experience is different: I was a European for the first third of my life, and since my immigration to the US I have been back about 50 times. I spent 10 years in France, 10 years in the Netherlands and my relatives live in Spain, in the UK and in Hungary. My family and I have traveled by regular train and by high-speed train dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I have also used the high-speed trains of Japan and Korea.
Most Americans have no conception of the efficiency, comfort and all-around advantages of this form of transportation. This is ironic, because high-speed trains are perfect for long distances, i.e. for a vast country such as the US.
When I want to go from my mother in Amsterdam to my sister in Malaga, nearly 3000 kilometers to the South, I chose high-speed train over driving, which would be an ordeal, and even over flying. The French TGV is especially phenomenal, and it is used massively.
Europe’s economic future is now cloudy. Spain is in trouble. But the high-speed infrastructure which it built for $60 billion over the past 15 years is a lasting step forward. Whatever happens in the future, things would be bleaker without it.
But America suffers from a loss of vision. For the short term, the doomsayers may be correct. We are broke. $100 billion is a lot of money (why did Spain do so much more for so much less money, by the way?).
But my God, how have we come to the point where two dozen other countries have adopted high-speed rail (Japan has had it for over 40 years), where every year additional countries join the list, but the country that landed men on the moon cannot move into the 21st century? It is as if, 100 years ago, the US would have said, “no thank you, we’ll stick with horse carriages.”
If Americans decide that they can’t afford high-speed rail and that other priorities are more important, so be it. But then, they must understand that the rest of the world is moving forward. In addition to the 11 countries listed in the Sacramento Bee article, the following countries also have, or are building high-speed systems: Austria, Bulgaria, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Uzbekistan and even an African country - Morocco!
Maybe the naysayers are right. Others can have this, but Americans cannot. Or Americans don’t need it. Whatever. If this is our decision, it should then be accompanied by great humility. And above all, it should be informed. We should know the score.
At least, if we decide not to join the rest of the world into the 21st century, we will do so while knowing the facts. leave comment here
See also: Should we Build High Speed Rail in California and if so How?
Thursday, January 19, 2012
By Tom Kando