Sunday, February 21, 2010


I hope I am alive in one hundred years. Not just because I want to sit in my rocking chair and yell at my great-great-grandchildren about how hard it was in my day (although that will be a cherished moment, I assure you). No, what I want to be able to see is whether I am correct on the whole high speed rail issue.

For those of you who have first hand knowledge of the Pony Express, perhaps you ought to return your attention to the gruel your nurse is trying to feed you right now. Everyone else knows that over the course of time there are technological improvements made that bring us collectively to a higher consciousness. The computer chip did so, as did Oprah, and pretty soon we will able to communicate purely with our thoughts and someone will finally figure out the perfect hangover cure.

I live for that day. The cure, that is; I can live long and well without knowing your thoughts.

In the meantime, before this perfect future arrives, we adapt or eschew so-called improvements to our way of life. Whether it concerns organic food or Google or transportation, each has rabid believers who wish to indoctrinate the world. The world just isn’t sure if it wants such indoctrination.

For example, there are people who want to build a high speed rail system between Northern and Southern California, very few of whom have any real vested interest in the project, other than wanting to be known as a proponent when it works out. Which it won’t.

There just aren’t that many people wanting to travel by train from Hollywood to San Francisco. Or vice versa. If the only proof that it would work is that it does in Japan and China and France and Germany and even, to a limited degree, on the East Coast of the U.S., then I am sorry to disappoint everyone. But I have one simple word for you.


Here’s another one: Toyota.

We are a car culture in this country, for right or wrong, and, notwithstanding trillions of recall notices being sent out by Toyota recently (and, in smaller numbers, from every other manufacturer of two- and four-wheeled motorized transportation units on a regular basis), a car culture we will remain. A few people might hop on board the newfangled train for the ride up or down the state, but not enough to justify the expense.

And, oh, what an expense!

We’re talking billions of dollars, and still we are not sure where it will be built. The middle part is easy, right through some cauliflower fields in the Central Valley. But then how do you get in and out of the major metropolitan areas at two hundred miles per hour?

You can’t. That’s the simple fact. It will have to slow down and deal with cities, and while the folks inside the train think to themselves, “Gee, that was fun, we should do it again, after all, there are so many seats available!” everyone on the outside will say out loud, “That’s why I don’t ride that damned train!”

Just because it works in Europe isn’t necessarily proof that it can work in the good ol’ U. S. of A. California is a large enough state—in square miles and population—that train proponents think it will help the citizens, but most of those citizens are happy to just tootle around in their gasoline-powered global warmers.

What might make sense is a high speed rail system that connects the west coast with the east. After all, it is a wide country with a lot of desolation between the ends (sorry Wichita, Kansas, but it’s true). A nice fast train track between, say, San Francisco and Raleigh, North Carolina, might be interesting. In truth, though, how many Americans would such a ride benefit? The answer: too few to matter. It just doesn’t seem to make sense here.

If you want to prove your case by listing all of the first world countries with high speed rail, let me ask two questions. How many citizens does it actually serve? And which so-called developed countries are able to survive without this transportation option? Oh, and here is my third of the two questions I promised: seriously, why do you have this bug up your rear?

Some people love the idea of high speed rail in California and will shout it from the highest rooftops. Some hate it, and have lots of stats as to why it won’t work. I don’t presume to know enough to say it will never work, but I highly doubt it. Since I don’t have a crystal ball I guess I’ll just have to stay alive for another fifty years or so and see how it all progresses.

My first thought is that it will still be under discussion, but the price tag will have grown into the quadrillions of dollars. If it turns out that I was wrong, and thousands of passengers are happily saving time and money hurtling across the ground in high speed railcars, I urge you to let me know. Really, send me a thought-mail or whatever passes for communication in this practically inconceivable future.

I promise to give your message as much attention as I would today.

1 comment:

  1. Matt,
    As a footnote to this excellent column, the following appeared in our local paper in the "Letters to the Editor Section" this morning, "The incompetent parasite politicians must be salivating over the thought of billions of dollars being proposed for high-speed rail service in California.

    These same people can't manage and maintain what they have. How can they manage a whole new system?"

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote, and what this man wrote. Continuing on in his column he attacks many of the same things you did, but you were not as pointed. Though not articulated, I sensed that he is somewhat partisan in his thinking. But that is OK, because this railway boondoggle needs total bi-partisan rejection.

    Keep up the good work,