The Economist asks “Why don’t Americans ride trains?”:
AMERICA has by far the largest rail network in the world, with more than twice as much track as China. But it lags far behind other first-world countries in ridership. Instead of passengers, most of America’s massive rail network isÂ used to carry freight. Why don’t Americans ride trains?
I’ve told you because they are gay.
There are many reasons why Americans don’t ride the rails as often as their European cousins. Most obviously, America is bigger than most European countries. Outside theÂ northeast corridor, the central Texas megalopolis,Â CaliforniaÂ and the eastern Midwest, density is sometimes too low to support intercity train travel. Underinvestment, and a preference forÂ shiny new visions over boring upgrades, has not helped.Â
Most American passenger trains travel on tracks that are owned by freight companies. That means most trains have to defer to freight services, leading to lengthy delays that scare off passengers who want to arrive on time. Domestic air travel in America is widely available, relatively cheap and popular. Airlines fear competition from high-speed rail and lobby against it. Travelling by cars is also popular. Petrol is cheaper than in Europe (mostly because ofÂ much lower taxes). Road travel isÂ massively subsidisedÂ in the sense that the negative externalities of travelling by car, including the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, are not fully offset, and most major highwaysâwhich cost tens of billions to maintainâare still free of tolls. And finally, Barack Obama’s embrace of high-speed rail has heightened a political battle over rail that doesn’t exist quite in the same way in other countries (although the fraught debate overÂ high-speed rail in BritainÂ comes close). Opposition to rail is now often seen as essentially conservative, andÂ Republican governors oppose rail projectsÂ to boost their conservative image.
Republican governors oppose rail because they hate wasting billions on gay projects that don’t work.