America and the train – an ambivalent affair


The United States of America (US) is a pioneer when it comes to developing new, cutting-edge technology. Whether it’s the invention of the most powerful military equipment, the most advanced information technology or the latest ultra-slim smartphone, the US will have played a dominant role. However, there is a type of transportation technology the US has never been particularly fond of: rapid trains. While some citizens call this a scandal, others rigorously argue against laying ultra-fast rail tracks. Now, the Obama administration has to make up its mind about the future of national mobility in the US.

Plans, plans, plans

Yes, it’s true: regarded as a conventional way of travelling in Europe and much of Asia, the high-speed or rapid train is a strange idea to many people in the US. This is quite strange because high-speed rail is generally praised for its comfort, speed, and consideration for the environment. In 2011, US Vice President Biden, recognizing the advantages of this transport mean, proposed to spend 53 billion dollars on a national high-speed rail network within the next six years to come. Potential high-speed rail “corridors” include California, Florida, the Northeast Corridor, and others. To the disappointment of many, there are no plans to build a transnational high-speed railroad connecting the east to the west coast. Long-term goals presented by the Obama Administration target 85% of Americans to have direct access to high-speed rail within 25 years.[1] 25 years, as in, there will be rapid trains in most of the US in 2036? God bless the…ok, well let’s put this into context: for some time, it’s been the political landscape in America that has caused the implementation of high-speed rail to stagnate. Since Biden made his statement in 2011, right-wing conservatives and Tea Party Patriots have not missed a chance to publicly voice their aversion against trains. They say it is poor investment offering no decent cost-benefit ratio and generally claim it to be a socialist invention.[2] The notion is: why invest in technology that was modern two centuries ago?

Politics as usual

And so we can put this whole debate in a nutshell: some think high-speed trains provide jobs, enable safe, environmentally friendly travel that is comfortable and not hugely dependent on oil imports. Others are convinced that it’s a reactionary, outdated form of transport presenting no real benefits to society. One doesn’t have to be particularly familiar with politics to see what’s going on here. Reforms are proposed, reforms are refused, reforms are proposed… In the end, why not take a supposedly backwards idea that has been proven to be trustworthy and then modernise it? It’s been shown to work elsewhere. America’s infrastructure would highly benefit from high-speed rail, in the short and in the long run. The reasons should be quite obvious by now.

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