Which dark continent again?

High-speed trains for Tangier, not Milwaukee.

Via Atrios and Steve Benen, an unsurprising report :

Talgo Inc. will shut down its Milwaukee train manufacturing operations in 2012, leaving only a maintenance base, because plans for a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison have been abandoned, the company announced Friday.
The Spanish-owned company acted after the federal government withdrew nearly all of the $810 million in stimulus funding for the rail project, which Governor-elect Scott Walker [R] had vowed to kill. Talgo had hoped to land contracts to build two trains for that line.

Meanwhile from Africa, an update :

France has finalised a 400-million-euro deal to supply Morocco with high-speed TGV trains. The French group Alstom is to provide the north African country with 14 high speed train sets that will enter service in December 2015 on the Tangiers-Casablanca route.

Why do Republicans hate trains, like Mrs Thatcher? I don´t mean just ¨think uneconomic¨. Subsidies for shopping malls are fine to Governor Christie of New Jersey, just not for needed rail tunnels. It´s not only His Majesty King Mohammed VI Whom God Preserve and the Chinese Politburo – their kind of people – who are train fans. I can´t imagine the Romanovs, the Kaiser, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Viceroy Dalhousie and the American robber barons of the Gilded Age without their private carriages. Ayn Rand´s heroine Dagny Taggart runs a railroad. Booze, women, music, and zooming past the contemptible houses of the peasantry: for a plutocrat, what´s not to like?

From December 19, you can catch a TGV from Paris to Figueres in Catalonia (zooming definitely, take your own booze, women and music – pas question). This is just right, if you are famous and lucky, for dining at El Bulli at nearby Roses before it closes.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

25 thoughts on “Which dark continent again?”

  1. Republicans hate trains because Democrats like them. This has been another of Atrios' patented Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

  2. Republicans hate trains because they aren't overtly "me first."

    At root core, the republican ethos is: "Why should I pay for something for you? Me first. Me second. And me third."

    (Check out any comment thread of a Krugman post on Social Security for vintage examples of this ethos. Very rich.)

    Trains are social enterprises.

    Life slows down on a train.

    Trains are about fellowfeeling, sightseeing, reading, meditating: Being human.

    Even falling in love.

    Automobiles are all about individuals at war.

    Get out of my way you no-drivin' son of a teabagger!

    My stupid urban vehicle is bigger than yours. I'll crush you before you crush me. Ha!

    I don't brake for liberals!

    Why is it in an automobile the person ahead is always going too slow and the person behind always to fast?

    Because inherently, the very fabric of the system, is hostile. It rips at the social fabric.

    You want to know what's wrong with Kansas?

    Because it is actually what's wrong with the whole damn country:

    We've been warring at each other (40,000 dead a year) in our automobiles for decades.

    That changes a person. That alters a culture.

    It is absurd to think being immersed in this auto-culture hasn't altered our nation's DNA.

    It has. It has made us meaner and more intemperate people.

    More right-wingish.

    More "me first" if you will….

    Which again is the republican root core philosophy.

    Which also explains why they hate bicycles and busses and ferries too…

    Too much we… not enough me.

    So they will do everything they can to ban and bar public transit systems.

    (Often without even realizing why they do so. Thus the made up nonsense about subsidies.)

  3. Since my wife and I drive regularly between Evanston IL and Columbus OH, frequently stopping to see our daughter and her family in Lafayette IN, we have often wondered why we can't have better intercity rail transportation. The CTA does us quite well in Chicago, after all. As it is, intercity driving can take the close attention of two people (we often seem to need a copilot to deal with the traffic on the Interstates) to negotiate our way between origin and destination.

    But then… we're often shlepping lots of stuff from place to place, and to go by train means lugging it from home to the subway and from the subway to Union Station, and getting there early enough to make sure that we get to the Amtrak station in time (even though it's frequently very late); that seems to be a burden that we shoulder but once or twice before we decide henceforth to pack our car with whatever we need (or may need), leave when we want, and stop if we want a break.

    My hope is that Google's self-driving car comes on-line before too long, in which my wife and I can talk or read in privacy and relative comfort. I know, even though we own a high-mileage car, a car's carbon footprint is still pretty substantial. But I'm enough of a techie optimist to hope that energy costs also drop significantly in our lifetime.

  4. More than a few Republican voters, and Conservatives too I imagine, consider it a point of personal pride that they no longer have to run to catch a slow, crowded, noisy train just to get to work and back every…single…damn…day. They did once, but now they've made it, ie they can drive to work. They have no sympathy at all for the pathetic, obviously lazy schlubs who still have to take the train. This informs their attitude towards rail travel, and explains why they sure as hell won't let their tax money go for new train routes but they're willing to go along with building more and better highways.

  5. Trains are simply not cost effective (For moving people… for freight they make sense.) under most circumstances in the US, given our population distribution. The desire to make a public display of wealth and power with other people's money is understandable, but should be resisted.

    Now, you're fair to note that Republicans will often support other things which are just as radically uneconomic. That's because they've got goofy motives for supporting those other wastes of money, not because they've got goofy motives for opposing wasting money in the case of trains. Rational motives suffice in that case, and we have to ask, instead, what is driving liberals to want to waste so much money on something that doesn't make sense.

  6. "More than a few Republican voters, and Conservatives too I imagine, consider it a point of personal pride that they no longer have to run to catch a slow, crowded, noisy train just to get to work and back every…single…damn…day. They did once, but now they’ve made it, ie they can drive to work."

    What a remarkable excursion into fantasy. Most people in this country have never, and I mean NEVER, commuted to work on a train. Most people do not live in places where that was ever an option. How could we have pride in no longer doing something we've never done? Are you imagining some fantastical past where commuter trains were once the rule in this country? Or even somewhat common? The fraction of the population that has EVER ridden a train is just a few percent. Commuted to work on one? Outside of New York or Chicago, where has that been an option? It's never been an option in most of the country.

    Trains were, at one time, the equivalent of airliners today, or perhaps what they were before deregulation made them more affordable for the masses. My mother regaled me with the story of her one and only trip on the Burlington Zephyr, as we viewed it in a museum, but she certainly didn't ride it every day…

    What a work of fantasy.

  7. Look, the only really American mode of transportation is a gigantic pickup truck or an SUV. Any other mode of transportation–especially commie BS like buses and trains–is basically French. Real Americans like to drive and listen to Rush Limbaugh; liberals like to ride trains and read.

    Actually, I propose this as a vaguely serious hypothesis. That is, I think it's a fair guess that's in the vicinity of the truth. I'd be happy to be wrong.

  8. "Trains are simply not cost effective (For moving people… for freight they make sense.) under most circumstances…"

    This really plays into my conclusions about the me-first crowd and their love of automobiling.

    That in fact they will make up bad reasons for what they feel inherently inside.

    And so they prattle on self righteously about cost effectiveness without ever taking into account:

    40000 American lost lives a year (Can you imagine the outrage if airlines lost a 100 people a day?)

    Millions paralyzed and made lame…

    Billions of road kills…

    Tons of Carbon Dioxide…

    Enormous hidden subsidies (just recently a non-profit hospital where I lived had to float a bond for a new parking garage)

    And so on

    And on…

    But don't let me stop you from prattling on about cost like a learned bore…

    Even while you have to get your truck or car today and go out there in that traffic and make hate.

    It is ruining you as a person and as a People.

    You Americans are miserable with each other and with yourselves and can't figure out why…

    So start it up! Go out there and drive your blood pressure sky high. Honk a bit… it'll make you feel better.

    I guarantee it. And besides, its all cost effective. Ha!

  9. Brett – You left out Boston, Washington DC and the SF Bay Area from your list. All are served by popular commuter lines and pretty good (though in the case of SF, which I know well, underfunded) local public transit systems.

    But I also confess to mystification by the fondness for high speed rail in many quarters. The Northern – Southern Cal link currently being planned makes zero economic sense, unless you make totally outlandish assumptions about ridership. I believe the "official" report used for justifying the proposal during the campaign for the bond posited just shy of 100 million riders per year. Using # of daily plane flights between Oakland/SFO and LAX/Burbank/Ontario/OC as a reference point, I couldn't come anywhere close to that #. At 5% interest cost, you need that order of magnitude of ridership to bring the cost down to the ballpark of $50-$100 per passenger.

    The whole project seems like a giveaway to the construction industry, taking advantage of many peoples' excitement for the gee-whiz of HSR. And I can't help notice that much of Japan's enormous gov't debt was amassed by creating Shinkansen lines to remote areas with minimal ridership.

  10. Sick joke alert:

    Why do Republicans hate trains like Mrs Thatcher?

    They don't. They hate Trains like Phil Ochs.

  11. "Brett – You left out Boston, Washington DC and the SF Bay Area from your list. All are served by popular commuter lines and pretty good (though in the case of SF, which I know well, underfunded) local public transit systems. "

    Which doesn't change how farcical the suggestion was, in a country where most people never commuted on a train because no such option was available where they lived, that conservatives oppose trains as a matter of pride about not having to use them anymore. We'd have to have used them, to be proud to not use them anymore!

    "Even while you have to get your truck or car today and go out there in that traffic and make hate."

    I live a mile from work. In good weather I can ride my bike there. A car is just a tool for me, not some kind of fetish. I think they're actually more objects of irrational emotion to liberals, who don't want to confront the economic arguments against them.

  12. A few posts upthread, Brett argued that Republicans hate trains for rational reasons, because trains only make sense in crowded areas, and most of America isn't very crowded. His premise is defensible: passenger trains require a certain density. But his conclusion isn't entailed by the premise, and doesn't work all that well empirically. New Jersey is crowded with inadequate trains across the Hudson; Governor Christie opposed more trains across the Hudson; Governor Christie is a Republican.

  13. As far as the cost-effectiveness argument — Just remember that every highway in this country (pretty much) was and is paid for with an 80-20 federal construction loan, with no ridership or service justification necessary. State puts it on the Transportation Improvement Plan, means the feds pay 80% of construction costs — and that's pretty much the end of the inquiry.

    Meanwhile, the federal funding standards for non-highway projects require fighting and cavilling every rail, bus, and public transit improvement.

  14. I don't know why I wrote federal construction LOAN, it's an outright GRANT. (More coffee, please)

    An 80-20 GRANT. In other words, the federal government subsidizes highway construction costs by a factor of 4 to 1 without inquiring into the justification.

  15. Just remember that every highway in this country (pretty much) was and is paid for with an 80-20 federal construction loan, with no ridership or service justification necessary.

    Funded, if I'm not mistaken, entirely by road fuel taxes.

  16. How is this?
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09025/944323-85.st

    Seems to be due to a combination of better mileage, inflated construction costs, (We really need to get rid of those "prevailing wage" laws.) and the highway fund having been looted back when the tax was in excess of needs.

    We should probably switch over to a miles traveled based system, (Ideally, just make all roads toll roads. It's technologically feasible with RFID.) based on estimated road damage given your tire loading.

  17. That's indicative, although it doesn't have the detail I'd like.

    And I would not at all object to a gas tax sufficiently high to fund highway building and maintenance; if the gas tax were raised for that reason, I would not object.

  18. I really do think it should be a fee based on estimated road damage, not just a tax on gas consumption. We're trying to pay for repairing the roads, after all, and the amount of road damage vehicles cause is almost totally uncorrelated with gas consumption. It's a rather high order function of the tire loading, a truck with high tire loading can cause thousands of times more pavement damage per gallon of gas than a passenger car with low tire loading.

    We really want to encourage people to not damage the pavement, right? Instead of encouraging them to use as little gas as possible while ruining it…

  19. "The fraction of the population that has EVER ridden a train is just a few percent. Commuted to work on one? Outside of New York or Chicago, where has that been an option? It’s never been an option in most of the country."

    Typical peasant argument where me = everyone. Show me the numbers or you are a liar.

  20. From "The American Conservative" Center for Public Transportation (http://www.amconmag.com/cpt/)

    "The transportation game remains as tilted as it ever was. Highway projects receive 90% federal funding, while most rail transit projects get only 50%. Libertarians scream about operating subsidies for transit, but according to the Federal Highway Administration (no friend of trains or streetcars), user fees including the gas tax cover less than 60% of highway costs; more than 40% is subsidy. Some rail transit systems also cover more than 50% of their operating costs from the farebox, meaning their operating subsidies are about the same as those for highways. …

    "… [C]onservatives’ primary political virtue is prudence. It is not prudent to make Americans’ mobility depend on imported oil. That dependence dragged us into a disastrous war in Iraq, and it threatens more wars, including war with Iran. Conservatives have long memories … "

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