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Air Travel, Train Travel, and Republican “Freedom”

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Many people have, for good reason, taken their knocks at syndicated columnist William F. George’s ludicrous column about trains, with particular emphasis on the substantial amount of government subsidies that facilitate “individualistic” car travel.    In addition, I’d note that the flying experience is a good example of Republican “freedom.”   For some distances flying is of course necessary and useful, although a good high-speed train network would reduce the number of routes that make flying more practical. For the ordinary person, however, flying is a miserable experience — more waiting in line than a Soviet supermarket during a recession, the potentially humiliating security theater, and incredibly cramped and uncomfortable travel.     But — and here’s the rub — people as affluent as Will can buy their way out of the worst aspects of flying, with separate security lines, private lounges, and first-class seating.   With trains, on the other hand, the experience for the ordinary person is infinitely superior but the affluent can obtain an only marginally better experience.   So you can see why Will hates it.   The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem.

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  • John

    Of course, Will also enjoys travel subsidized by his employer, so he probably doesn’t even pay for that much of his first-class jet-setting.

    More Freedom!

  • Pingback: A Reminder : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Airport security theater is humiliating from start to finish – no potential involved. It is a national embarrassment and I am ashamed to put myself and my family through it.

    On the other hand, the last time my wife and I flew we actually took off our shoes right next to George Will (honest!), so there is that.

  • I disagree with George Will on the merits of his case (someone stuck in traffic on a planned highway is hardly free to go as they will), but I actually think that there is something to the idea that HSR represents a particular ideological vision of economic development, and that it’s a good thing.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Sure–all of these choices are on some level political and ideological. I don’t see my post as contradicting that.

      • You’re quite right. Sorry, the first time I read you in a bit of a hurry and misinterpreted your quote marks.

  • Brad P.

    I find it silly to think that high-speed trains wouldn’t immediately start to mimic the miserable experience of air travel if they got the volume necessary to make them worth the expenditure.

    Is there something intrinsic to train travel the would cause it to be viewed differently from a security standpoint?

    I’d also like to add that I have twice taken a train from nowhere, Illinois to Chicago, Illinois, and it took about three times longer than a commuter flight would because we stopped at a half-dozen podunk towns along the way.

    Krugman was right that Will’s “controlling progressives” is silly, but nothing he put out in support of high-speed rail makes much sense to me either.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Is there something intrinsic to train travel the would cause it to be viewed differently from a security standpoint?

      If only there was a high-usage train network between major cities in the northeastern United States that would allow us to test that proposition.

      • Brad P.

        If only there was a high-usage train network between major cities in the northeastern United States that would allow us to test that proposition.

        That is just as silly a response. Do you think we would have airport security lines like we do if there were only one route in the nation that had enough passengers to turn a profit?

        Really, is there any reason our government agencies will not see train travel as as much of a security threat as commuter air travel?

        As soon as it got popular, the FBI will tell a couple of black muslims that they would pay for everything if they just blew up a train, and then you are stripping at the train station too.

        • djw

          Really, is there any reason our government agencies will not see train travel as as much of a security threat as commuter air travel?
          Yes.

          I invite you to think harder about this.

        • joe from Lowell

          Really, is there any reason our government agencies will not see train travel as as much of a security threat as commuter air travel?

          As soon as it got popular, the FBI will tell a couple of black muslims that they would pay for everything if they just blew up a train, and then you are stripping at the train station too.

          There are numerous trains running onto Manhattan right now – AMTRAK, various commuter lines – with hundreds of people on them.

          Exactly zero of those popular trains have the kind of security you’re assuming is inevitable.

          • I think Brad’s logic is that if there was more rail travel, trains would be a more attractive target for terrorists, and after the inevitable terrorist attack, _then_ we’d see the increase in security theater. He may have a point, but the counterargument is that the people who ride trains are more likely to ride them on a daily basis. The inconvenience for individual users would be greatly magnified, so they’re less likely to put up with it. On the other hand, if there were more rail travel, there would be a lot more occasional users, who’d be more likely to put up with the crap. It’s a complicated issue, but I don’t think Brad is as wrong as he usually is.

        • djw

          To be slightly less snarky; it’s not out of the question that someday humiliating, pointless security theatre will be someday added to trains, ferries, and god-knows-what else. Lots of things are possible. But: there’s a fair amount of train travel now in the US, and a lot more around the world, and it doesn’t yet exist. Why you think this is irrelevant remains unclear.

          • Furious Jorge

            Why you think this is irrelevant remains unclear.

            Because it very effectively undercuts his ideologically-based position.

            You’re welcome.

            • efgoldman

              Are you Furious Giorge of TNC’s commie horde? Nice to see you.

          • Brad P.

            Why you think this is irrelevant remains unclear.

            Because, according to this, rail accounts for about 30B passenger-miles.

            Air travel accounts for nearly 20 times that.

            It is absolutely ridiculous to compare the security measures, waits, lines, and crowding of two travel industries that have such substantially different markets at present.

            • Scott Lemieux

              But even in countries where train travel accounts for a higher percentage of miles traveled, there’s no security theater. And there are obvious differences, such as the fact that trains can’t really be hijacked. You’re making stuff up for which there is no evidence.

              • To be fair, those other countries aren’t the US, and we’ve proven to be much more meekly compliant to pointless security theater than they are.

            • mark f

              As soon as it got popular, the FBI will tell a couple of black muslims that they would pay for everything if they just blew up a train, and then you are stripping at the train station too.

              [R]ail accounts for about 30B passenger-miles.

              Air travel accounts for nearly 20 times that.

              So the government really, really wants to create reasons to strip search citizens, but isn’t doing that now and won’t do it until it becomes substantially more difficult to implement?

              • Brad P.

                So the government really, really wants to create reasons to strip search citizens, but isn’t doing that now and won’t do it until it becomes substantially more difficult to implement?

                No. The government overreacts to score political points whenever there is some sort of public outcry. It has happened with airport security (TSA scanners, taking off shoes), it has happened with the drug war (Salvia, fake cannibas, MDMA).

                The Federal government doesn’t step in until the political points are there. Since trains are an afterthought now, there is little push for security measures.

                When a terrorist blows up Union Station, (and assuming rail transportation actually becomes more than an afterthought, the government will come down like a ton of bricks, because they have to seem like they are justifying their positions.

              • mark f

                You said that the FBI would engineer the threat to provide that justification, as a response to rail travel becoming popular.

              • Brad P.

                You said that the FBI would engineer the threat to provide that justification, as a response to rail travel becoming popular.

                http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/11/28/fbi

                The FBI combats terrorism in part by encouraging young men to be terrorists.

                The train is just a reasonable target.

              • mark f

                I understand that there have been cases where the FBI has entrapped people. I don’t see where they’ve done it in order to create the conditions necessary to strip search the general population, however. Is there now any such invasive security theater around Christmas Tree-lighting or similar ceremonies?

              • Brad P.

                I understand that there have been cases where the FBI has entrapped people. I don’t see where they’ve done it in order to create the conditions necessary to strip search the general population, however.

                They don’t. We have a huge security circus where media, government, and business all play off the hysteria another generates.

                The FBI entraps people to make it look like they are really successful at stopping terrorists. The media dutifully reports the glorious news to its terrified readers, and the TSA comes out with greater measures to make sure everyone is safe, while some security company gets to trot out the new top of the line security devices.

                They all want their funding and will find ways of getting it.

                Does anyone here think airport security theater is a reasonable reaction to the actual threat, or is just “theater” in hopes of generating money for our keepers?

              • mark f

                I think everyone here basically agrees with all of that. I certainly do, except for that last part about the keepers. I don’t see how that’s an argument against trains, though, and I don’t see how it connects to this:

                As soon as it got popular, the FBI will tell a couple of black muslims that they would pay for everything if they just blew up a train, and then you are stripping at the train station too.

                It seems to me you’re leaping from Glenn Greenwald’s POV to Glenn Beck’s.

        • Do you think we would have airport security lines like we do if there were only one route in the nation that had enough passengers to turn a profit?

          Scott’s hypothetical (answer the hypothetical!) is, in fact, reality (Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor), although it may or may not turn a profit.

          My admittedly limited understanding is that passenger travel has never turned a profit anywhere, being supporter either through government subsidy or, prior to Amtrak, freight revenues from the individual railroads.

          Of course, I’m sure the airlines could have shelled out all that money for airports etc. by themselves, too.

          • Brad P.

            Scott’s hypothetical (answer the hypothetical!) is, in fact, reality (Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor), although it may or may not turn a profit.

            I believe it is one of the only profitable lines in the US, at $4 a head margin.

            But again, looking at one regional line (the only one of its type in the country) and saying that its security measures will be used when the market is national and open to 80% of the population is foolish.

            Let say Amtrak ridership rose nationwide to say 500,000 a day (still less than a half of air travel, but very, very far above train levels now), and a brown person was apprehended trying to light his underwear on fire pulling into Penn Station. Are you really expecting a reasonable cost-benefit analysis of different security measures, or are they going to roll out full-body scanners?

            • Cackalacka

              Probably not.

              Folks were blowing up (and attempting to blow-up) planes for decades, with only marginal increases to the security theater. Folks, by and large, have accepted for decades that when you leave the terminal, you leave your safety in the hands of others.

              Something happened that made folks realize that the planes themselves could become guided missiles, which prompted the security theater (and a host of other misappropriate outcomes.)

              Try and guess what that was.

              • Brad P.

                I just don’t understand how a trainload of dead people doesn’t cause the same sort of scenario.

              • mark f

                I just don’t understand how a trainload of dead people doesn’t cause the same sort of scenario.

                Because it wasn’t the planeloads of dead people that frightened everyone on 9/11, it was the buildingloads and NYCload of dead people.

              • There has been only one bombing of a high-speed train, in the 1980s, when Carlos put a bomb on a TGV. 2 people died, causing a major embarrassment to the terrorists. Since then, terrorists have preferred to attack targets that cause nontrivial amounts of carnage.

              • Cackalacka

                Because it wasn’t the planeloads of dead people that frightened everyone on 9/11, it was the buildingloads and NYCload of dead people.

                Bingo; the fact that Brad P is deliberately avoiding this point AND that he seems to indicate that folks gathering together for the purposes of travel and/or commerce always results in catastrophes leads me to the inevitable conclusion that I would have much more edifying discussion on this matter with my Labrador Retriever.

              • mark f

                I suppose they’re both pretty good at bringing the same thing back to you over and over again.

              • Mark Centz

                Malls, sporting events, gridlocked freeways are all equally subject to this sort of concern. I’d say something snarky about enjoying the reaction of wingnuts and concern trolls to extensive checks of their cars and trucks, but experience teaches that they’d find a way rationalize their anger by blaming liberals whatever the cause.

              • Cackalacka

                True, but to be fair to my dog, at least he (to be clear, the dog) can distinguish objects and contexts.

                And despite the fact that he is limited by a lack of vocal chord/thumb, my dog possesses the intelligence to acquire additional knowledge and discern between correct and incorrect patterns.

              • DrDick

                I would have much more edifying discussion on this matter with my Labrador Retriever.

                The same could be said of a rock. And a not very bright rock for that matter.

            • joe from Lowell

              But again, looking at one regional line (the only one of its type in the country) and saying that its security measures will be used when the market is national and open to 80% of the population is foolish.

              I don’t understand why you keep saying this as if it proves something. The airline industry is bigger than the passenger rail industry (in mileage, anyway, though not in passenger trips)…and? so?

              • Brad P.

                so?

                So a huge federal works program installing a nationwide series of high-speed routes from major population center to major population center is obviously going to draw more attention from legislators and lobbyists than a single privately run corridor.

                There is not much money in providing security for Amtrak, because Amtrak doesn’t make money, and where it does margins are slim. The size of the contract for working with the TSA on securing a nationwide rail network would be HUGE though.

        • Halloween Jack

          Just to mention one difference, right off the top of my head, that should be staggeringly obvious to anyone who’s lived through the last ten years: you can’t crash a train into a skyscraper.

          • Brad P.

            Think there are more people at anyone time in a skyscraper or a rail hub?

            • Is that a trick question? My money’s on the skyscraper.

            • JustinV

              Sky scraper. Easily. Next.

              (Except, you know, the two rail hubs surrounded by and underneath sky scrapers in Manhattan right now that have not been subject to your imaginary government crack down even after 9/11)

              • Brad P.

                Penn Station serves 600,000 a day.

              • Hogan

                All at one time? Because that was your original question.

              • JustinV

                Also, I made an exception for Penn and Grand Central Stations. I’m saying that with the exception of two existing skyscraper-based rail hubs (in which the categorical difference between skyscraper and rail hub breaks down) obviously skyscrapers contain more individuals at one time since terrorist attacks are discrete events.

            • joe from Lowell

              Skyscraper. Easily.

              Also, passenger trains tend not to be loaded with jet fuel.

          • Trains go under skyscrapers, though.

        • chris

          Really, is there any reason our government agencies will not see train travel as as much of a security threat as commuter air travel?

          Because it’s really, really difficult to intentionally crash a hijacked train into a building that isn’t, at the very least, quite close to the tracks.

          You do know that we have most of this air paranoia because of 9/11, right? The fact that planes don’t run on tracks was central to how 9/11 was planned and carried out. It literally could not have been done with a transcontinental train (which probably don’t carry that much volatile fuel anyway, although I admit I don’t know that for sure).

          There’s just no way to make a 9/11-sized threat to a train system, let alone (as 9/11 did) use a train as a weapon to attack somewhere *else*.

          • BigHank53

            Pretty much all of the high-speed trains on the planet don’t carry any fuel at all–they’re powered through external electric lines. Flip a switch and they coast to a stop, and then all you have is a hostage situation.

            Century-old technology, by the way.

        • wengler

          The expense and engineering work, not to mention the inevitable questions of building a train track that ends in 80th floor of the Empire State Building.

          • Brad P.

            Yeah, cause a bomb going off on a train in Grand Central Station is nothing.

            • Scott Lemieux

              And yet, oddly, there’s no security theater (and it’s not like real high speed Amtrak would make Grand Central Station more crowded, not least because the Amtrak doesn’t go to Grand Central.) So thanks for destroying your own premise!

              • Brad P.

                http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1362588/New-documents-reveal-TSA-wanted-body-scan-pedestrians-city-streets.html

                It certainly is not out of the question, if they are looking into this now, imagine when rail traffic jumps 5-fold.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Can you explain how, say, a high-speed train from San Fransisco to Los Angeles would increase traffic at a train station in New York City that isn’t on the Amtrak network? Thanks!

              • wengler

                Imagine if we had a high-capacity rail system with no security checks at all.

                Subway ain’t just a clever name for a sandwich shop.

              • Brad P.

                Can you explain how, say, a high-speed train from San Fransisco to Los Angeles would increase traffic at a train station in New York City that isn’t on the Amtrak network? Thanks!

                I can explain how nationwide high-speed rail can induce our wonderful congress into pushing greater security onto passengers, whereas one regional highspeed train hasn’t.

              • Hogan

                One regional high-speed train in a region that happens to include over 30 million people, the national capital, several of the nation’s largest cities, several major ports, a significant chunk of our financial infrastructure, and that produces roughly 20% of the national GDP. Yeah, hard to figure why they would care about before the Madison-Milwaukee line is up and running.

              • whereas one regional highspeed train hasn’t

                The region in question is one of the most densely populated and terrorist-target-rich in the nation and its trains are frequented by members of our wonderful Congress. But it’s fun watching you pretend otherwise.

            • Bombing commuter trains and bombing HSR are two different things. Terrorists do the first, because busy commuter stations are high-value targets. They killed a three-figure number of people in Madrid that way. Security theater there is impossible, because you can’t inspect every commuter. It’s just not done, even in paranoid countries like Israel (where you can board a bus freely, though not a train) and the UK.

            • chris

              It may not be nothing, but it’s also not 9/11. You’ll kill maybe 10 people, unless it’s a *really* high-yield bomb, which would be hard to make and smuggle in past even ordinary levels of security.

      • Ron O

        Is there something intrinsic to train travel the would cause it to be viewed differently from a security standpoint?

        Yes. You cannot drive a train into the building.

        • mark f

          Timely.

    • Brad P.

      Especially when you follow the link to the Shanghai Maglev Train wiki page.

      Krugman is an economist and knows full well that economic obsolescence is more about the ridership levels being 20% of capacity than about advanced technology.

      By his figuring, I suppose all we need to kickstart this economy is a new World’s Fair.

    • joe from Lowell

      Is there something intrinsic to train travel the would cause it to be viewed differently from a security standpoint?

      Yes. You can’t crash a train into a high rise tower, a nuclear plant, or a military installation.

      • Brad P.

        Being able to murder a few hundred people is more than enough justification for the government to issue heavy-handed security measures.

        • joe from Lowell

          If only we had a busy rail line in operation to test this theory.

          Perhaps one that ran into Washington DC itself.

          • Yes, some kind of Corridor, perhaps one in the Northeast!

            … Nah!

        • asdfsdf

          It’s not, actually. There were numerous bombings and hijackings of planes in the decades of the cold war, and yet security theater only reached the heights of today after terrorists attacked landmarks. What about the lockerbie bombing? Highly fatal, and no security clampdown. We are willing to tolerate bombings and hijackings, because they don’t create improvised cruise missiles and show tragedy live on the news.

          • Brad P.

            Exactly. The security measures are more related to the visibility of those who put them in place than they are to the actual help they do.

            That is why people keep calling it “theater”. It doesn’t do anything but imitate reality.

          • ajay

            What about the lockerbie bombing? Highly fatal, and no security clampdown

            Well, kind of – IIRC after Lockerbie it became compulsory for passengers and luggage to be reconciled on every leg of a flight, to stop you getting on at A with a bomb, getting off at the stopover at B, and leaving the bomb on board when the plane took off again for C. In other words, there was a security clampdown, but it was limited, entirely practical, and largely invisible.

      • Halloween Jack

        Great minds, &c.

    • Hogan

      I’d also like to add that I have twice taken a train from nowhere, Illinois to Chicago, Illinois, and it took about three times longer than a commuter flight would because we stopped at a half-dozen podunk towns along the way.

      Yes, that would be where the “high-speed” part comes in. More and better tracks = capacity for both local and express service at higher velocities. No one is arguing that we should build more replicas of the existing Illinois Central infrastructure.

      • Brad P.

        Yes, that would be where the “high-speed” part comes in. More and better tracks = capacity for both local and express service at higher velocities. No one is arguing that we should build more replicas of the existing Illinois Central infrastructure.

        The stops occur basically because demand is so far below capacity that straight runs cannot be justified.

        • joe from Lowell

          No, they don’t.

          The stops occur because they are mandated by law.

          Not to mention, demand for the straight run is based on current speeds and travel times.

          So, good job pointing out both of the differences that make HSR better than existing rail service: fewer stops, and shorter travel times.

          • Furious Jorge

            But joe, everything can be explained in terms of supply and demand. Everything.

            Why do you hate Adam Smith?

            • DrDick

              He does not hate Adam Smith, he has simply read him (in contrast to Brad).

              • Brad P.

                This reverence for Adam Smith, or supposed reverence for Adam Smith of libertarians and conservatives is perplexing.

                Its akin to that stupid “Darwinist” label.

              • wengler

                Yes, Adam Smith is a Communist to the Propertarian Party.

            • joe from Lowell

              Adm Smit cilled mah puppeh.

  • joe from Lowell

    George’s column purports to be about HSR supporters’ ideology, but it’s actually about his own. He simply projects his polar opposite of his own ideological concerns onto his opponents, and then damns them for holding the beliefs he just made up.

  • Fats Durston

    What I’m curious about with regards to this particular Harrumph of the Will is origins of the idea that high-speed trains are an attempt to control the masses. I first encountered this nonsense (in comments here?) via Protein “Wisdom.” Is Will trying to popularize a claim that burbled up from libertarian message boards, or were they following his lead?

    Aw, who am I kidding. I don’t really care.

  • DrDick

    The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem

    Au contraire, I think it is very much his problem. Anything which confers freedom or privileges to the hoi poloi is quite simply anathema. Next thing you know they might actually demand that their views be heard and acted on in our political system.

    • Bad 1980s Comedian

      or, heaven forfend, wear bow ties and glasses

  • Brad P.

    I will be interested in seeing all of that added freedom blue-collar workers who rarely if ever travel an hour away provides.

    Methinks the added freedom will be limited to upper-middle class urbanites.

    • Holden Pattern

      Here’s a thought. Perhaps the blue-collar workers would travel more if it were easier for them to get from place to place. Maybe riding on something that ran a fixed and speedy route.

      Alternatively, if blue-collar workers had more vacation time, perhaps they’d go further from home when they took time off.

      We can only hope that the people who own us might deign to provide these sorts of things to their serfs.

      • Brad P.

        We can only hope that the people who own us might deign to provide these sorts of things to their serfs.

        They are trying.

        • Holden Pattern

          They are trying.

          Yes, our feudal overlords are certainly our friends. That’s why they break unions, fight any kind of taxation except on the poor, fight any laws that might allow for reasonable leave and vacation policies, and are currently engaged in trying to destroy the last vestiges of retirement security that the serfs might hope for. AND THEY WOULD DO THAT EVEN MORE WITHOUT A STRONG CENTRAL GOVERNMENT, BECAUSE THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY’VE DONE THROUGHOUT HISTORY EVERY TIME THEY GET A CHANCE.

          Really, I have no idea what color the sky is on your world that you identify so strongly with the rentier classes and believe so fervently in their inherent goodness and the infallible justice of the “market”. It’s insane.

          • Brad P.

            I am comparing the the government pushing this railway system to feudal lords handing trinkets to serfs.

            AND THEY WOULD DO THAT EVEN MORE WITHOUT A STRONG CENTRAL GOVERNMENT, BECAUSE THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY’VE DONE THROUGHOUT HISTORY EVERY TIME THEY GET A CHANCE.

            Are you saying we are freer now because we have a larger central government than they did in feudal times?

            • Holden Pattern

              Oh, I give up. You’re hopeless. Every time you seem like you’re about to learn something, the governor in your brain kicks in and you revert to form.

            • wengler

              As a serf, I am constantly thankful that my local baron has quite a bit of power compared to the king.

      • mark f

        As the son of a blue-collar worker, I can tell you that my father hates anything that takes his mind away from banging nails or beating my mom for more than an hour. That’s why things like football and tailgating remain the provinces of the upper class.

        • hv

          Studies these days show that two short beatings twice a day are much more effective and satisfying than a beating that lasts for more than an hour.

        • Brad P.

          That’s why things like football and tailgating remain the provinces of the upper class.

          Can’t wait to see those blue-collar workers driving into downtown New York to take a train to Boston so they can tailgate the next Jets/Patriots game.

          They are going to be SO disappointed when they get there.

          • mark f

            Yes, because the Patriots don’t play in Boston and the blue-collars are too stupid to know that. Lol, etc.

            Meanwhile, in the real world, people already take buses and trains to see sporting events all the time.

            • Brad P.

              Yes, because the Patriots don’t play in Boston and the blue-collars are too stupid to know that. Lol, etc.

              Or because you can’t tailgate off the back end of a train?

              Or cause they realize they have to take a cab 22 miles to Foxborough?

              Or because they realize they just spent $250 on a round-trip train ticket and can’t afford a beer?

              Or because they can’t make any stops on the trip home?

              Airlines dominate trains when it comes to travel times for long distance, and cars dominate trains when it comes to cost, travel times, convenience, and flexibility.

              The only people who would benefit from this are very wealthy people and business folks who can afford to make regular trips back and forth, and those are not blue-collar workers.

              Check out how Amtrak markets their Northeast Corridor onboard magazine:

              http://www.arrivemagazine.com/doc/system/StaticDoc/NewArriveMediaKit_2010.pdf

              Their front page literally screams, “Use us! Our passengers are LOADED!”

              High speed rail is an upper-middle class urban yuppie toy, and a weird cargo cult of the left.

              • Brad P.

                Ok, so maybe not literally.

              • mark f

                Actually, Brad, the issue here is that you said “blue-collar workers . . . rarely if ever travel an hour away.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, and I made a joke at its expense. But since we’re on the topic: yes, they do. Many of them take vacations and attend events and so forth. If you were talking about as a daily commute, well, it depends on the nature of the work. A guy who works in a factory is most likely going to live nearby, just like a guy who works in an office is likely to live close to his job. But a carpenter or an electrician or a plumber is going to go where the work is, and that’s not always near home.

                And since we’re on the topic of trains, sporting events and Boston, I invite you to check out the Riverside T station on a Red Sox game day and point out all the Richie Riches making use of it.

                And that doesn’t even get into your continuing elision of the point that better, faster and more frequent train service will broaden its appeal to groups who may not use Amtrak now. Instead of looking at Amtrak’s magazine, why don’t you see who is making use of HSR in Europe and Japan?

              • Brad P.

                And that doesn’t even get into your continuing elision of the point that better, faster and more frequent train service will broaden its appeal to groups who may not use Amtrak now. Instead of looking at Amtrak’s magazine, why don’t you see who is making use of HSR in Europe and Japan?

                Because the Northeast Corridor is the only portion of America that even resembles existing HSR markets in the world.

                You show me a HSR somewhere in the world that operates between two markets that are anything like Houston and Dallas, Tampa and Orlando, or St. Louis and Kansas City that isn’t gushing money and drastically under capacity, and I will be amazed.

    • Hogan

      I will be interested in seeing all of that added freedom blue-collar workers who rarely if ever travel an hour away provides.

      If there’s some freedom from congestion on the highways around here because more people are taking the train, that’s something.

      • Brad P.

        If there’s some freedom from congestion on the highways around here because more people are taking the train, that’s something.

        People will be taking the trains between cities, not within. Traffic will diminish on interstates, but not really within urban areas.

        • JustinV

          How do you imagine that cars access interstate highways? They use surface streets. Also, in many large cities it is common to use the interstate even within the city limits to travel non-trivial distances. Street grids and highways are integrated, that’s the very point of their existence, any reduction of traffic on one is a reduction of traffic on the other.

          • joe from Lowell

            No, he’s got a point with this. A vanishingly small % of the cars on a city street consist of people on a trip of over 100 miles to another major city.

            You’re making the argument for intra-city, commuter rail. HSR is a different kettle of fish, and the arguments for it are different.

            • JustinV

              I agree with your point. But my idea was that by reducing the number of people on the highway taking longer trips, it reduces highway congestion for people who might wish to use highways to travel to different parts of the same city faster than surface streets. Thus reducing surface street congestion down the line, etc.

              • hv

                In addition, there are some particular choke points that might be resolved.

                Have you driven from LA to Vegas? There are a few areas that might reasonably be expected to clear up a bit.

    • hv

      I will be interested in seeing all of that added freedom blue-collar workers who rarely if ever travel an hour away provides.

      Have you ever been to Vegas? It seems to be a reasonable cross-section of society. A LA-Vegas spur is very likely to benefit “blue collar” types.

  • Julian

    “Is there something intrinsic to train travel the would cause it to be viewed differently from a security standpoint?”

    Have you internalized the fact that you failed to identify the extremely obvious security difference between a plane and a train? I think it’s been forgotten in the shuffle.

    I thought I’d point out that “planes can steer” occurred to me the instant I read your post. Which does beg the question as to how hard you thought about it.

    I don’t know what FAA regulations require commercial airlines to carry in terms of fuel, but a transcontinental flight can easily be rerouted from a city which has few security concerns to a city which has many. All that is required is a hijacked plane and sufficient fuel. This means that there are many more possible avenues of attack upon the targets we need to defend and provide security for.

    • Brad P.

      Then you believe the security theater people go through to fly is an appropriate and reasonable response to the threat level posed by terrorists,

      or,

      do you think it was a rash, unreasonable, and overreaching attempt at being the saviors of the week?

      I’m not asking if trains are safer, I’m asking if there is any reason government would not treat them the same as they do aircraft.

      • JustinV

        I’m asking if there is any reason government would not treat them the same as they do aircraft.

        I think the consensus view is that a good reason to disbelieve this is that, empirically, the government does not treat trains like planes now despite many heavily used train systems in a densely populated part of the country. Your argument resists this claim by simply positing a remote hypothetical. In which case I simply posit that once train travel becomes more common, people will demand less security theater at airports because they will have better security experiences with which to compare the TSA. Now we have only to increase train travel options in the US and wait to see who is right.

        • mark f

          Your argument resists this claim by simply positing a remote hypothetical.

          First time around the block with Brad P., I see.

      • wengler

        Because more rich people fly and/or spend time in tall buildings.

      • Yes, there is a reason – namely, historical precedent. All countries have security theater on airplanes. It usually doesn’t involve patdowns or naked scans, but it does involve everything that went on at US airports before about 2003 – often including taking off shoes. In contrast, most countries do not have security theater on trains, and the ones that do tend to do it much faster than on planes. China and Israel have security theater on trains, but it takes 5 minutes to clear it. Japan has none. Neither does anywhere in Europe, except for Eurostar, which a) is meant to protect the Chunnel rather than the trains, and b) takes 10 minutes.

        Based on past track records of severe US government incompetence, I can’t rule out that they will try some security measures on HSR. But so far the TSA has expressed zero interest in security theater on HSR, and apparently in California the HSR people have asked them point-blank.

        • Ginger Yellow

          Yes, this. Madrid train station was attacked by terrorists. The London Underground was attacked by terrorists. The Tokyo underground was attacked by terrorists. In none of these places is there “security theatre” now. Admittedly, you are now more likely to be shot in these places by trigger happy cops. But that doesn ‘t mean high speed rail is going to lead to 40 minute security queues and body searches.

      • joe from Lowell

        Planes are inherently scarier than trains. How many people cross their fingers or say a Hail Mary or get drunk because they’re afraid of a train pulling out of a station. If something goes wrong with a train, it doesn’t fall out of the sky and kill everyone.

        In terms of the fear necessary for good security theater, it’s just not there with trains.

  • This thread needs more Meade, and less Brad P.

    • Revolution

      I agree

  • Brad P.

    http://reason.com/blog/2011/03/03/tsa-still-a-menace

    It sure is ridiculous to think the TSA might make train travel a pain in the ass too. I mean it isn’t like lobbyists aren’t pumping huge money into trying to get the government to buy more scanners, and it isn’t like the TSA hasn’t already been trying it out at train stations or contracting businesses to make proposals for security theater for train stations.

    I don’t know why I was concerned the government might engage in extremely intrusive security measures at train stations, as we all know the TSA is only concerned with providing security with the least amount of intrusion, right? Right?

    • Left_Wing_Fox

      Ah. Bad logic.

      We say: High Speed Rail in other nations has minimal security. Therefore High speed rail in this country won’t need airport-level security. Trains are good for those who don’t want to be hassled.

      You say: Other countries don’t have the TSA, and the TSA will take over american HSR security as soon as it can.

      The problem is that you then say “Trains are bad”, despite the fact that it’s not the trains. or “Government is bad” despite the fact that even more socialist nations than the US don’t havepolice-state security on their trains.

      If you’d just said “TSA bad” then there might have been some agreement.

      • To back up the “TSA bad” angle, apparently Amtrak’s chief of police pitched a fit when he heard about the events related in that Reason link. Noted here.

      • Brad P.

        All I said was that it was stupid to think that train travel, if it grew in prevalence to the degree it would have to to make this investment worthwhile, would not be made just as frustrating as air travel by the TSA.

        Krugman’s argument for train travel finding a niche in the transportation market is solely dependent upon the security theater in airports. I find the assumption that the TSA wouldn’t be unreasonably intrusive to a nationwide train system extremely dubious.

        Nobody would even accept that the TSA is likely to be a bastard about train travel, as more has been devoted to that argument than the incredibly poor performance of HSR systems worldwide.

        If you want to go over a list of the reasons an HSR train route from Houston to Dallas or St.Louis to Chicago is stupid, we can do that too.

        • Hogan

          Krugman’s argument for train travel finding a niche in the transportation market is solely dependent upon the security theater in airports.

          No it isn’t. That’s just his argument for why George Will doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    • When Reason stops employing hacks and liars like Robert Poole and Wendell Cox, or taking money from big oil to spread FUD about trains, we’ll talk.

  • I think money is really important to be successful.

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