In some ways, this is a strange article by Ms. Lee, which gets many points right, but many others only raise eyebrows and doubt. As it happens, I'm not at all convinced that there is much common cause between the UK and the US. We both are indeed suffering the imposition of HSR, but the context for each is quite different.
The UK is already rich in rail and public transit, even stratified by class use. There is transit for the well to do, and buses and the "underground" for the working class, and even inter-city rail has it's layered classifications by price. Cars are primarily for those who can afford the high taxes, high licensing fees, and high fuel and maintenance costs.
However, the similarities are also striking with regard to government/corporate interests determined to force into being a vastly expensive rail system that is apparently quite unpopular in many regional sectors. The British media are as full of critical comments as are ours on this side of the pond.
I've interspersed additional comments within the text, below:
Americans and Brits Love their Cars, Oppose High Speed Rail
by Laura Rambeau Lee
Posted May 10th 2011 at 10:38 am
The key to winning the future in America, according to President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is High Speed Rail. According to the President, China is “cleaning our clock” when it comes to infrastructure. Why is this Administration wasting so much time trying to waste our money on something we do not want? [Unfortunately, if there isn't any truthful information, it's fairly easy to sell HSR to the public. They did it in California in 2008. We are a nation of mindless consumers.]
The existing rail systems [Amtrak passenger rail, that is] in this country are heavily subsidized by all of us through gas taxes. The light rail lines in Portland, Phoenix and Charlotte are in deep debt, behind schedule in construction, and causing the local governments to raise sales taxes and cut back on bus service schedules and other vital services. The United States is not unique in this administration’s obsession with mass transportation. This report from The Telegraph establishes that the progressive agenda, in this case in the pursuit of high-speed rail, is worldwide. [This author needs to make a distinction between urban and regional commuter rail, and Amtrak inter-city rail.]
According to the report, “cars will be banned from London and all other cities across Europe under a draconian EU master plan to cut CO2 emissions by 60 per cent over the next 40 years.” It states further that “Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, insisted that Brussels directives and new taxation of fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and onto “alternative” means of transport.” [This is autocratic chatter in nations with a more top-down sense of what is appropriate government. We are nothing like that. Hence our obsession with automobiles; they embody our sense of ourselves as independent, adventurous, individualistic and highly self-determined.]
It is apparent that the high speed rail mania our federal government has been relentlessly pursuing is not unique to the United States. An article dated February 28, 2011 in the UK Independent describes that “Transport Secretary Philip Hammond today launched a consultation on Government plans to “redraw” Britain’s economic map by building a £32 billion high-speed rail network.” The words used by Hammond are eerily familiar, as he states “We must invest in Britain’s future” and “We cannot afford to be left behind – investing in high speed rail now is vital to the prosperity of future generations.” These identical talking points were heard repeatedly from local officials in Tampa during the elections in November 2010.
The British lifestyle is quite similar to ours. [I beg to differ. The UK has been rail dependent since they invented it in the mid-18th century. The US was, but is no longer, rail dependent. We are not "this sceptered isle" of several hundred miles. We are a vast, sweeping nation, and inter-city rail for us has had it's day.]
According to a study in 2009 by the RAC Foundation, “in the past 20 years a consistently high number of people, 80-90%, have said they would find it very difficult to adapt to not having a car”. [What would you expect the RAC, which represents driving, to say? Like in the rest of Europe, automobiles are hugely expensive to own and operate. They are not the primary transit mode for the "common man" as they are in the US.]
Having done extensive research on the issue of light rail in the Tampa Bay area and the high speed rail proposals here in Florida and in other states across the country, the conclusion has always been the same. Rail in any form is 19th century technology. It is inflexible and limits the ability of people to go where they want when they want. It costs too much and does too little. [If these comments are about inter-city rail, I completely agree. However, in urban and regional settings, effective transit is multi-modal and highly networked thus overcoming rail inflexibility. But even there, it is expensive. Only if there is optimal usage are such expenses justified. ]
We must ask ourselves why? Why are our government officials trying every trick in the book to get us all out of our cars and onto their trains? Is it to put the final nail in the coffin of the automobile industry? [No, the answer to your own question is in the next paragraph. There is a collusion between the transit industries, and the business and inner city housing developers who seek high-density, high-rise development opportunities; they feed off each other.]
The United States Department of Transportation, through the Federal Transit Administration, is promoting the development of livable and sustainable communities that are called “transit oriented developments” . According to their home page “TOD creates communities where people of all ages and incomes have access to transportation and housing choices by increasing location efficiency and allowing people to walk, bike and take transit for their daily trips. TOD is attractive to its residents because it fosters a convenient and affordable lifestyle where housing, jobs, restaurants, and entertainment are all in convenient proximity. In addition, TOD increases transit ridership and reduces automobile congestion, providing value for both the public and private sectors.” [Obviously, TOD as a developer industry exists due to transit, while the transit industries and bureaucracies are nurtured by the urban developers of TOD. 'Transit' and 'Development' are the two halves of this self-serving equation. The brand name for all this is "smart growth." As in marketing.]
Everyone must ask themselves if they are willing to give up the freedom of living where they choose and coming and going as they please. If the answer is no, perhaps it is time to let your representatives know that you are not going to allow the government to continue pursuing an agenda that is clearly against the will of the people. Let them know that they are wasting precious time on an issue that is going nowhere. They need to concentrate on the pressing issues of unemployment, imminent inflation, alarming budget deficits and out of control regulations that are stifling our economic growth. [What we are observing and forced to participate in is called "social engineering" by a government determined to use us as pawns for the benefit of ideological/social/political premises as well as revenue generation for participating industries such as transit and construction developers.]
In the words of Thomas Jefferson “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and less perfection in the others – with more health, virtue and freedom – would be my choice.” The man was prescient!
The President is now floating the idea of our paying a tax based on the miles we drive. Aren’t we already paying that? The more we drive, the more we fill our tanks. We do not want to wait until the cost of owning a private vehicle becomes impossible. At that point we will have become dependent on the government for all of our transportation needs. If they did succeed in getting us out of our cars and we did consume less gas, there would be less revenue to subsidize the rail. Where would the money come from then for the pretty trains?
Should we care that China is “cleaning our clock?” Perhaps this is the best way they have to transport all of their “human capital” to their places of work. Perhaps the average Chinese cannot afford a personal vehicle. Perhaps they are just now entering the 19th century when it comes to transport. [Whether China is or isn't "cleaning our clock' has nothing to do with high-speed rail, which is merely symptomatic and iconic/symbolic for global prestige, not substantive. The Chinese also drink more tea than we do. They also have over four times the population we do. So what? You might want to consider that the Chinese are not so much "cleaning our clock" as manufacturing them for us, just as they will our high-speed trains.]
The last time there was so much fuss about “mass transit” I believe it was during the Weimar Republic. That didn’t end well. [I don't see the connection. Mass transit in the '20s and '30s was not unique to Germany; it was Europe-wide and connected every European town to every other one. It certainly had no causal relationship to the emergence of National Socialism (Naziism). ]