Even Uzbekistan Is Building High Speed Rail
The population of Uzbekistan is 27 million. Its GDP is $85 billion, or about $3,000 per person. The population of the United States is 310 million. Its GDP is over $14 trillion (world’s largest), or about $47,000 per person.
Which country just opened a 150mph high speed rail line connecting two of its main cities? And which country is about to default on its debt because its legislature is controlled by a group of wild-eyed radicals who hate high speed rail as much as they hate economic stability?
As you have probably guessed, it’s Uzbekistan that is about to open a new high speed rail line:
A high-speed rail link under construction between Tashkent and Samarkand is set to cut the maximum journey time to two hours. A Spanish-built Talgo-250 electric train is due to make its maiden journey on the line on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence on 1st September.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, refused to vote tonight on a proposal to increase the debt ceiling. Normally a routine vote without any controversy at all, the Republicans instead demanded massive, crippling budget cuts as the price of voting for the increase. Democrats caved and agreed to the cuts and still Republicans would not agree to increase the limit and avoid default.
The contrast could not be more stark or more depressing. Leadership and innovation is passing away from the United States and toward the rest of the globe, where even poor countries like Uzbekistan have figured out the benefits of high speed rail and are investing to make it happen. The US, on the other hand, is currently dominated politically by a group of old, white, prosperous people who have a bizarre ideological opposition to common-sense measures to address economic problems.
The debt ceiling and HSR are linked, and not just because House Republicans have already won big cuts for federal HSR funding in previous budget negotiations. They are both examples of how a coalition of NIMBYs, teabaggers, and those with privileges, money and power have coalesced during this recession to stop any and all efforts to end the recession, help people suffering from inequality, and spend money to create jobs and provide lasting prosperity. Those opposed to a debt ceiling increase and to HSR agree that new government spending is somehow bad and that it would be far more preferable for the masses to suffer rather than make those who are well off sacrifice anything at all for the common good. While most Peninsula NIMBYs vote Democratic, when it comes to the issues of economic recovery, they stand in lock-step allegiance with Eric Cantor, Scott Walker, and the Koch Brothers against doing anything to help grow the economy if it doesn’t meet with their approval.
Interestingly, it’s not as if Uzbekistan didn’t have any NIMBYs either:
However, the construction of the new high-speed line has not been without controversy, mainly linked to the shielding of the railway line “to protect those living adjacent to the railway.”
A commission set up in the middle of June to assess the level of completion of the new railway line was shocked to see that, instead of modern, safe barricades, the line was protected only by coils of barbed wire, an anonymous source at the Tashkent rail department told Uznews.net.
The wire was removed immediately and new barriers erected, requiring the services of every railway engineering company between Tashkent and Samarkand. Engineers from a Tashkent heating company also had to be drafted in to complete welding work on new grilles.
OK, so that is a pretty ridiculous situation and those living next to the railway had a right to be upset – you don’t secure a high speed track with barbed wire. On the other hand, Uzbekistan moved quickly to put in proper and safe barriers once the problems were discovered. In Palo Alto, however, NIMBYs have actually fought against safety improvements even when confronted with the ongoing death toll of children from the community. Once again, Uzbekistan proves to be more effective and sensible than the United States.
True, my comparison is a bit hyperbolic. The state of California is proceeding ahead with its own HSR project, and has so far resisted calls from NIMBYs and other right-wingers to stop the project. The US Senate and the White House still support HSR, and the House will as well once voters toss out the Republican majority – and after the sorry events of this week, it seems more likely than ever that Nancy Pelosi will return to the Speaker’s office in January 2013. If and when that happens, and if Democrats retain control of the Senate and the White House, the future of high speed rail in the United States will actually be quite bright.
But first we have to get to 2013. In 2011, the House Republicans are risking an unprecedented debt default and crashing the national economy – and they’re the same group of people who have been trying to fight against high speed rail. Most Californians and Americans want to lead on things like high speed rail, not watch as the rest of the globe moves on while the United States self-destructs because a small but powerful group of people refused to spend any new money and refused to embrace 21st century reality.