I've been a supporter of high speed rail and our need to match our foreign competitors in infrastructure investment for as long as I can remember. Yet I find myself uncomfortable with the President's repeated calls for prompt large investments in this area.
I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I suspect most Americans have never ridden a train, except perhaps at Disneyworld. Maybe I'm just afraid it will all go wrong and spoil our chances in this area forever. These are certainly not the kind of projects that show quick results, and the voters are so shortsighted and impatient. (The Republicans have noticed, which is why some governors are pointedly turning down federal rail money they once would have seen as welcome pork.
I'm also concerned that here in the Northeast Corridor, there will be a misguided, half-assed attempt to further upgrade Acela rather than built the kind of new, dedicated line a true high-speed service (over 200 mph) would require. (Yes, I know it'll be difficult in such a densely built-up area. But Japan and Europe are dense too.)
Consider also one of the key facts cited in this recent New York Times article "Pitch for Rebuilding Infrastructure Carries Political Challenges": "The median Republican Congressional district now has a population density 11 times smaller than the median Democratic district . . ." [emphasis added] I think that's pretty stunning, and pretty telling. The Republicans are increasingly the party of outer suburbs and rural areas. The only kind of infrastructure they really understand or care about are roads and highways.
Maybe, rather than trying to start a bunch of projects at once, we should focus instead on doing just one quickly and really well. If we make its speed fast enough, its design cool enough, and its operation efficient enough, then everyone else will be enviously asking for one, instead of feeling that Washington is pushing something on them they never wanted.