Trinity Railway Express- Dallas, TX

Growing up outside of New York, the threats by Congress to do away with Amtrak in one way or another were always taken with serious alarm.  People in the metropolitan area understood the importance of Amtrak in terms of getting between Boston and Washington, D.C.  The area did not particularly care if no one rode Amtrak in Utah or Mississippi.  As I grew up I came to realize that conservatives hated Amtrak because passenger rail was somehow European (and hence effeminate) and weak because it was perceived to diminish the extreme masculinity of the American automobile.  After all, real Americans get themselves places, they do not depend on others to do it for them.  Of course we should all ignore the CEO’s and extremely rich with their chauffeurs and private jets.  The train made people seem less independent as they could not set their own individual course.

This is of course all hogwash.  Conservatives should be supporting transportation and infrastructure investment in droves.  Alex Kummant’s article at American Thinker on precisely this topic made me happy.  He makes several important points about the role of transportation in America’s economic success.  He also points out that the free market is not the best strategy for transportation planning.

The 250-year economic miracle of the United States has been enabled, in no small part, by the unparalleled transportation capability first found and then built on this continent. It began with the remarkable St. Lawrence Seaway and the harbor-rich East Coast, without which the coastal colony system and its robust trade would have developed very differently. This was followed by the western expansion powered first by the Ohio River system and then by the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. Technical development linked with geography (river banks and plains) then drove the railroad economy, followed by highway and air, always in the international vanguard. Today we falter, as we idle in traffic on the way to the local home building supply store, and have little or no transportation advantage over other nations and geographies.
In the passenger transportation world, conservatives have lost their way with the libertarian mantra of “let the free market work,” as though this absolves them of wrestling with the real details of real problems. Witness the chaos of the commercial airlines in the last 25 years, the 150-year boom-bust history of the railroads, and the gradual unwinding of major elements of the troubled British rail privatization.
He points out that “Few realize that on a per-passenger basis, Amtrak has had less capital input than auto transportation nationally.”  But he also issues a call to arms to conservatives that I welcome:
It is entirely appropriate for the federal government to create a detailed national passenger transportation plan and then to work with local, state, federal, and private sector entities to realize the proposed networks.
Conservatives should make this issue theirs. There are, no doubt, large political pitfalls with earmarks and bridges-to- nowhere, but that can always be an excuse to do nothing. The current approach of the right, basically ignoring the national competitiveness implications of transportation and the related energy issues, is an abdication of responsibility.
Conservatives have a critical role to play in any transportation discussion.  Conservatives have a huge stake in promoting business and the movement of goods, people and ideas that is necessary to keep the economy active.  Conservatives also depend on stability and transportation is critical to such stability.   This is why I’m so frustrated when Republicans like Senator John McCain seek to remove funding from public transit.  Fortunately McCain’s most recent efforts were defeated in the Senate.
Transportation is not a liberal folly not a conservative punching bag.  Transportation is essential for this country.  Roads are a critical part of that, but the nation needs forward-thinking transportation policies that are multi-modal, energy efficient, promote density and high public ridership and are efficient and cost-effective to operate.  These are not liberal or conservative values, they are American values.


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