Hands Up, Don’t Crash The Train

It’s quite fashionable these days to mock religious believers. It may indeed be silly to blame God’s wrath as the reason a hurricane came through and wiped your town off the map. But let’s not pretend the snark monger mockers are any less dedicated to superstitious religious belief. This week we were treated to the Church of Progressivism’s sermons on how the Amtrak crash near Philly was the result of insufficient money-sacrifice to the god of federal funding.

Nevermind that the driver seems to have accelerated when he was supposed to slow down, or that he attempted to take the train around a turn at twice the required speed limit. No, if only we had stacked enough money on the Government altar, the locomotive gods would have temporarily suspended the laws of physics and endowed the rails with miraculous strength and gently guided the train around the bend.

No less than the White House has endorsed this view. If this line of politicized, slanderous questioning of the motives of Republicans and conservatives and anyone opposed to more federal funding is fair game, are we allowed to delve into the personality and motives of the man responsible for the crash? If the character of anyone on the Right or anyone who favors privatization of Amtrak is on the table for simply questioning the sensibility of subsidizing Amtrak, is the character of the man who could be directly responsible for 8 deaths and hundreds of injuries open for discussion? Let’s see.

Charles C. Johnson at gotnews.com looked up Brandon Bostian, the Amtrak engineer (allegedly) responsible for the crash. A search through his social media accounts reveals that he is a gay activist who worked as a cashier at Target before becoming a conductor at Amtrak. Cashier to train conductor. Would you be totally offended, I mean, would it be completely out of bounds, to suggest that he was an affirmative action hire? Yes? My apologies. Please enjoy the teddy bears and coloring books in the safe space next door.

Johnson also found that Bostian had numerous accounts on, ahem, johnson-related websites (trigger warning!). His public profiles have pictures and video of him doing various things with his penis, including urinating and sitting naked on the toilet while flushing his freshly shaved pubes. The guy is an exhibitionist and a narcissist. What do exhibitionists and narcissists crave? Attention. Would it be outrageously homophobic of me to ask if he was in a deeply disturbed mental state when he accelerated the train as the fatal turn was oncoming? Would it be hatefully insensitive of his alternative lifestyle to wonder if Bostian did what he did out of a desperate need for attention? Yes? I’m so sorry. Let’s get those safe space blankies and binkies in here, stat.

This is all complete conjecture, I understand that. But, Progressives have to understand what they’re doing when they imply that evil Republicans hoarded money that rightfully belonged to the People’s Railway, causing the unnecessary deaths of commuters whose salty tears over the clawing greed of the robber barons eroded the track. Have a taste of your own medicine.

What happened to waiting for the facts? There is an attempt by the media and some lawmakers to establish a false narrative here, not only before we know the facts, but before the investigation even began. Shameless. It’s happening so much more frequently now, perhaps most notably with the “hands up, don’t shoot” lie.

***

So what’s the deal? Why can’t we Luddite Yanks get with it and have national high-speed rail like Europe and Asia? The short answer is we don’t need it or want it. (A more complete answer is here.) Rail reached its peak in the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, but airplanes, cars and buses became the preferred mode of travel for Americans. Other reasons include:

Geography. The US is big. Japan, with arguably the best high-speed rail system, is roughly equivalent in size to California. So, if LA, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle and D.C. were all inside California – the way Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, etc. are all in a similar space – a high-speed rail system could be justified. Or if Lisbon was LA and Copenhagen was somewhere around Oklahoma with Madrid, London, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Rome, Brussels, Vienna and more in between. It’s no accident that only part of Amtrak that has ever made money is the Northeast Corridor.

Population dispersal. Asia and Europe are more dense than the US. China, the most comparable country in terms of size, is slightly bigger than the lower 48, but its population is much more concentrated – the vast majority being in the south-eastern portion of the country. That’s like multiplying every single American by 4 and relocating them east of the Mississippi.

The US just doesn’t have this kind of density, and the populous north-eastern United States, which has the highest passenger train use, has been and will continue to lose people:

Development. America is both too advanced and not advanced enough for high-speed rail. Passenger rail’s peak passed over a century ago, and it won’t become viable again on a wide scale for at least another century. Planes, cars and buses will continue to dominate. (I know those are all subsidized in some ways as well, but it’s not even close to close to rail subsidies.) Trains are the past and the far off future, not the present or near future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against trains. I love choo choos. I’ve been through Japan on the Shinkansen, taken the TGV in France, travelled China top to bottom by train, and yes, taken Amtrak around southern California. I hope to do the Trans-Siberian one day. It’s a mixed bag. Some trains are great, some I didn’t like so much. The Beijing to Shanghai bullet train was fantastic, but it was barely less expensive than flying and took longer. The worst train I ever took was from Guangzhou to Chongqing. It stayed in the station long enough to let everyone off, then to reload. It was a 30 hour ride. There was no cleaning in between and I was left with used, disheveled, sweaty sheets and trash on my bed. The windows were left open because the train was too old to have air conditioning and bugs flew in the window when we made stops. The train was packed and noisy. Other trips were slightly better.

I would never give up those experiences, but because of them I don’t envy the high-speed rail systems abroad. Let’s just hope passenger rail goes the way of freight shipping and the airlines and gets drastically deregulated and privatized. When the time comes, we’ll probably have better stuff anyway.

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