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Why Do Conservatives Hate High-Speed Rail? 5 Reasons Right-Wingers Are Sabotaging Public Transportation Projects

In addition to busting unions and gutting voting rights, Tea Party governors are refusing federal funding for high-speed rail. What do they have against it?

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“Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons -- to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they -- unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted -- are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.”

But before he was against high-speed rail, Will was for it. Back in 2001, after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Will wrote a column calling for trains as an anti-terror measure. Seriously. Putting in high-speed trains would lighten the load on air travel, making airports easier to secure—and one would assume, though you could hijack a train, you can't drive it anywhere its rails don't go.

Will is right on one level, though. Public transportation puts everyone on the same level. Fast-food workers and bankers get off at the same stop on the train. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg famously rides the subway to work (even though he's a billionaire).

On the other hand, one of the concerns some progressives have about high-speed rail is that it will prove, like highways, to be yet another government subsidy for those who already have money. After all, high-speed inter-city transit won't be the same as cheap subways or buses—it'll be pricier and likely used primarily by business travelers.

But with decent public investment and proper administration, high-speed rail could be kept affordable and available to all. And that's exactly what conservatives like Will really don't want. Much better to keep pumping money into highways, which keeps individuals buying cars and gasoline. Because the same politicians who have a huge problem with high-speed rail have no problem with government spending on roads.

4. 'Urban' vs. 'Rural'

Public transit is an “urban” issue—it works best in densely populated areas. High-speed rail will be no exception, as it is most efficient when running from one urban center to another. And urban areas have more diverse populations, progressive politicians, and already-existing public transportation infrastructure.

Like much of the rest of the Tea Party's rage, opposition to public transit is based in values. Steven Harrod, writing at, says, “Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.”

Urban vs. rural. People of color vs. white people. Public investment of any kind has been branded by the conservative movement as a way for the government to take away money from hardworking, independent (white) people and give handouts to freeloaders, usually seen as nonwhite people.

But Harrod notes that actually, when it comes to transit, urban folks are actually subsidizing rural drivers. Fuel taxes, he writes, are disproportionately paid by urban drivers on local roads that are often not funded by those taxes—and they go into maintaining highways on which everyone drives.

Public investment in an “urban corridor” rail project, by contrast, would pump money into those urban areas, and, Harrod writes, provide infrastructure and incentive for even more urban development.