Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Derailing The Straight Talk Express


Though I'd prefer to not spend too much time discussing the presidential race, there is a clear enemy of rail development vying for the White House, and so I feel it is important to address that in a blog about trains. In McCain we have a very outspoken detractor of trains [Boston Globe]. He has consistently voted down funding to revive Amtrak to meet new demands, while showing no such concern for large sums of government spending on automobile and air travel. This is a common view among political enemies of rail. The notion that government spending on trains is socialist and wasteful, but government subsidies on automobile infrastructure, car manufacturer loans, airports and keeping unprofitable airline flights afloat, are somehow necessary for a supposedly "free market".

What I find particularly odd about McCain however, is for a man who seems to hate spending so much as a dime on trains, he sure does love train imagery and metaphors. His infamous catch phrase is that he is the "Straight Talk Express", an allusion to the direct nature of train lines. He has ironically campaigned in a tour bus called the McCain Train. I even noticed the song that came on after his speech at the GOP convention contained lyrics with American train imagery.

On a campaign stop in Erie Pennsylvania, McCain visited a factory that produces train locomotives. He seemed rather surprised to find America still makes so many trains. Of interest however, is that the factory exports most of it's train engines to foreign markets [Streetsblog]. Since America has let it's rail support decline for decades while many other countries have been investing significantly in expanding their freight and passenger rail systems, this is no surprise.

China alone has been spending hundreds of billions of dollars expanding and modernizing it's rail system under a highly ambitious plan. Sadly, significant investment in rail projects has not been the case in the United States for quite sometime. Although Congress did give Amtrak a much needed boost recently with a veto proof majority in both houses, in response to growing train ridership, safety concerns after the unfortunate Metrolink tragedy, and declining vehicle miles traveled by cars.

So what gives? McCain seems to enjoy imagining himself as a metaphorical train, but consistently votes down any attempt to modernize our U.S. train system. This has led me to wonder if perhaps he is closeted railfan. Maybe he has a model train city in one of his basements, but publicly manifests siderodromophobia (fear of trains and rail travel) in his voting record. What ever the case is, McCain is no friend of the train even if he does put McCain Train sticker on his bus.

So what about his opposition from the Democratic ticket, Barak Obama? He and his running mate Joe Biden wouldn't necessarily make advancement of trains a sure thing, however there are several reasons to believe they would be very supportive of rail projects. Obama has been quoted promoting promoting high-speed rail, and seems to get that we need to look at all transportation alternatives. Although mass transit seems to be low on his priorities for talking points, he does include it in his energy policy. Joe Biden has a long history of supporting funding to revive the Amtrak system, and is himself a frequent train commuter on Amtrak's semi high-speed train Acela. For more information, the CA High-Speed Rail blog did a great post discussing what an Obama and Biden White House could mean for support of rail projects in the US.

With all the other things that get the television coverage this election, train development may seem like a niche issue. However I would argue that trains, both commuter and freight, are an absolutely essential component to getting this country off of foreign oil dependence, something both candidates profess they want and that our Nation needs. Not to mention train projects would create non-outsourceable infrastructure jobs at a time with record unemployment rates. People look at projects like this California high-speed train and think, well it's going to cost money and it will be a decade before all phases will be completed. The McCain/Palin love affair with drilling for more oil (something McCain has opposed in the past) seems to be in denial about the fact that it will cost a lot of initial investment and be a decade before that oil enters the market. Once this new and relatively limited supply does get flowing, it's significance on the effects of oil's market price is debatable [U.S. News].

So I urge that any one who wants to see the advancement of trains, and a real break from oil dependence in this Country, to consider not voting for McCain come election day (or earlier for you mail in ballot folks). That and if I hear the contrived phrase "my friends" one more time I may become the next victim of spontaneous human combustion.


Rafael said...

Siderodromophobia? Please tell me you had to look that up!

Gary said...

At first I was going to just write the made up word trainaphobia. But then decided I should look up in an index of phobias if there was an actual name for a fear of rail travel. So the next time you run into someone with an irrational fear of trains, you know they may be suffering from siderodromophobia.