Remember High-Speed Rail Through Philly? It’s Dead.
Back in February, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech at 30th Street Station in which he touted the Obama Administration’s plans for high-speed rail the country over. It involved using federal stimulus cash to build new locomotives, similar to high-speed rail in Europe. We were promised Philly to New York in under an hour, at cartoonish speeds. It was set to cost $53 billion over six years and probably would have created tons of jobs, somehow.
At the same time, Paul Levy of Center City District had been touting “long term plans for high-speed rail,” in which, he said, trains of the future would move between Philly and New York in 37 minutes. (Oddly, he only promoted rail that took Philadelphians to Manhattan for work, not vice-versa.)
But none of that matters now. Last month, Republicans zeroed out the federal high-speed rail budget, killing any hopes of high-speed rail in the near or distant future.
And looking back, it’s hard to imagine now how there was any enthusiasm for the plan, at all. Considering Republicans had just taken back the House of Representatives and cut their losses in the Senate, the Administration had to worry about things like cutting Medicare, trimming government jobs, shutting down the government and cutting the deficit—certainly not high speed rail, which wasn’t even a blip on the radar at that point. And the administration didn’t seem ready for the backlash.
When Biden made it up to Philly for his afternoon steam engine jig, Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Schuster, the new Railroads Subcommittee Chair, had already called any high-speed rail plan “insanity.” Other Republicans were giving their usual talk about how trains are communist—or, as House Transportation Chair Rep. John Mica put so eloquently, “Soviet-style.” The 175-member House Conservative Caucus even announced they wanted to go a step further and “completely de-fund Amtrak and high-speed rail” similar to what George W. Bush tried to do in 2005.
Still, the Administration had been trying to give out money for trains around the country—but, in so doing, tossed it anywhere except between Washington, D.C. and Boston, where it’s needed. They focused instead on Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio lines. The newly-elected Tea governors of all three states rejected the cash.
“Rather than focus on the few corridors that need high-speed rail lines the most, the Obama administration doled out half a billion here and half a billion there, a strategy better-suited to currying political support than to addressing real infrastructure problems,” writes Slate. “Obama’s rail system would have been, at best, a disjointed patchwork.”
To be fair, Rep. Mica said the future of American rail is the Northeast corridor, not small cities in swing states. But the future can wait, we’re sure. And wait a while. Because if there’s one thing Republicans hate, and will always hate, it’s trains.
That profound hatred definitely has something to do with the transportation often being federally funded and “public.” But it goes deeper than that. As the Newsweek columnist least likely to crack a smile George Will once put it, “The real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism…To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables.” (Don’t diminish my individualism! Now hop in the Ford Pinto.)
But what about Philly? Well, without the high-speed funds, we’re basically doomed for the time being. All the trans-cash we’re getting has been deemed fit for SEPTA’s “Green” projects and new cars, and not our fancy bullet trains to New York and Washington.
Probably for the best, though. Because sounds like those things might involve “timetables” and you know who used those? Soviets.