Sunday, August 03, 2008

No. 3 - Marginalization and Demonization

Third on Mister Trains' list of what the United States should have done to ensure that Passenger Rail was viable in the twenty-first century is a two-parter. Because they are two sides of the same coin, we have put them together; but they just as easily could have been No. 3 and No. 4.

Marginalization: The act of diminishing the importance of something by shoving it off to the margins of public consciousness. In our society today, the homeless, the harmless insane, the elderly poor, and Passenger Rail are all marginalized. When public policy evolved (or devolved) to support air and highway transport at the expense of rail, the policy makers found themselves with a nightmare of complaints from those who still viewed rail as the way to get from here to there. Train-offs were always made after loud public outcry from those who did not want to lose the passenger train.

So we dealt with it by convincing ourselves that those loudmouths were not riders but complainers and that they probably would not use the trains if they were left on the timetable. We then marginalized the communities that suffered and sometimes died because of the train-offs. We told ourselves that they were little hayseed towns that didn't have an economic future anyway.

During the process of marginalization, the media always presented the railroads as an archaic form of transportation. Likewise, successful European or Asian passenger trains were characterized as quaint and touristy. Not until our trains were long gone and the rest of the world's weren't did the media start showing us the "modern and space age" trains of France, Japan, and etc. Now the only experienced passenger car builders come from places other than the United States.

Demonization is an extreme form. Not only were railroads characterized as archaic and outdated, but they were placed in a blame situation for almost every possible annoyance that a transportation form could have. They were too hot, too cold, unsafe, they contributed to noise, pollution, they dispoiled the land, they were founded by robber barrons who never repaid their debt to society.

Trains retreated, they retrenched, and they kept a low profile. Today they do their jobs without the high advertising budgets of airlines and auto manufacturers. Throughout the world, however, railroads haul more passengers more miles and more comfortably than do today's airlines. But they don't do it here.

Mister Trains still gets comments from people who don't get it. From those who say rail is archaic. We bet that fewer people in the rest of the world feel that way. Where Passenger Rail was never marginalized or demonized, it flourishes.

©2008 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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