Most of the traditional media has tried its level best to keep the country focused on the debt ceiling "crisis" - aka budget crisis, aka Republican hostage situation, aka etc. ad infinitum. But what can we, who love trains and train travel, learn from all of this?
For one thing, we should start to learn not to place so much faith in our elected politicians in matters of establishing wise policy. I saw a bumper sticker this afternoon that pretty much sums it up. "GOVERNMENT DOES NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS, GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIZES THEM." Just because government - I don't care if it is federal, state or local - puts money into a project or policy, that doesn't mean it is a wise policy.
Making good transportation policy is one of the most important things that government can do for the people of these United States. I will say that a different way: Making GOOD transportation policy is, etc., etc., etc.
If making war is one of the biggest "rackets" out there, then we've got to figure out a way to turn transportation, and that includes railroads, into a "racket." Because we've sure learned to do a good job of making war in the process. We have not, as a nation, learned much about good transportation policy.
Another thing to learn as it relates to transportation is that there will never be an unlimited well of money springing from the federal government. Although many people would like this to be a falsehood, I don't see how it can happen. As such, we should design our transportation projects to get the maximum ton-mile or passenger-mile per dollar. And that means railroading. Despite its anachronisms, railroading is still the cheapest way to move many tons and many passengers from point A to point B.
A third thing, related to the second thing, is that we need to get over the idea of letting the government help us out by sucking money out of our pockets first and then paying for some service we need at a later date. We've got to learn to know the real cost of getting from point A to point B and be ready to pay it. If I knew the real cost to me and to taxpaying society - which has been shrinking, by the way - when I decide whether to fly, drive or take the train, even if the train loses in the comparison, it's the only way I'm going to make an informed decision. Consequently, it's the only way that a truly free society can develop the modes of transport that will move it forward with a robust economy.
What should we do? I don't think this so-called crisis gives us any pointers, other than to never let things get so bad that the only choices we have are all bad ones. But maybe there are choices out there. I will get to them in another blog.
© 2011 - C. A. Turek - firstname.lastname@example.org