America and Public Transportation

One of the complaints of many migrants from more industrialized countries is the minimal level of public transit in the States. While containing a minimal public bus service and national highway system, the US lacks one critical form of public transportation. Along with Canada, the US does not have a nationalized form of public high speed rail. There are several reasons given for the absence of national rail in the US. However, given the present circumstances, there is little excuse for the so-called “global leader” to lag in this critical element of infrastructure. What the hell, USA?

There are several reasons given for the current¬†state of affairs. The first is that it is too expensive to consider a national rail system, yet every modern industrialized nation has one, despite the fact the US has the highest GDP in the world. Another points to the enormous geographic challenge, yet, the national highway system clearly proves this thesis false, combined with the fact that even Russia and Turkey¬†also have national rail systems. The next reason turns to federalism as the holy solution to all domestic policy problems, yet, again, the national highway system was explicitly funded at the national level, under a Republican president (hence, the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways). Then, the ultimate, anti-scientific dodge: that streets and rail are two different types of project. Government-contracted engineers largely based the national highway on railroad experience from the last century, and that’s considering that railroads were built without the technology of the next century.

What really then is the reason for the lack of a public rail system like those in Europe? Rail transportation in the US is largely privatized, and, as with any commonly used good, has vested interests seeking profit over public welfare. However, in order to maintain the rails, there is even today, federal (national) funding for railroads. In this sense, it’s not a matter of changing a good from private to public as much as it is to increase funding and muster government officials’ will to take on the challenge as Eisenhower did. There’s one other element to consider, which is that a national rail system, like a national highway system produces enormous numbers of potential jobs for those concerned about the economy. As Eisenhower’s memoir noted:

“More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America. … Its impact on the American economy – the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up – was beyond calculation.”


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