No Sympathy for the Big Three
So the Big Three have come to Washington, DC, cup in hand and tugging a lock. "Please, sir, we’ve made a few mistakes but we’re very sorry. If you could see your way clear to spot us a couple of $billion, we promise to be good. And by the way, if you don’t, we’ll blame the layoffs on you." It looks like Congress will fall for it. The 2010 election cycle is underway and no Congressperson wants to be tarred with ‘I took your job away’. And of course, nobody saw it coming. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. What’s in order here is a trip to the woodshed for a sound thrashing.
For starters, this current mess in the automotive industry is largely of its own making. We have a transport system that is largely dependent on hydrocarbons and subsidized roadways. Their propaganda system has done its best to keep people believing that the natural order of things is bigger engines, heavier curb weights, and body styling that changes every year. December 1970, when US crude production peaked, should have told them something. But no, the market is God and we shall obey. No more growth in US oil extraction? Go elsewhere and get it.
Well, I have a plan. It’s pretty simple, really. It will put hundreds of thousands of people to work, it doesn’t require any new technology, it uses energy that can be generated from various sources, and we can start Monday morning. It’s electrified passenger railroads.
Look, it’s time to face facts. The private automobile has no future. Why throw good money, labor, and resources after bad? If the Big Three want $billions, why not require them to tool up and produce passenger rail cars and electric locomotives in return? Why go further into national debt for a dying technology? Have the Department of Transportation get off its butt and order up a few hundred thousand passenger cars and locomotives and some track. Ties could be made out of recycled plastics and fiber like that fake decking material. Revive the old rights of way and get to it. By the time Obama’s first term is finished we could have thousands of miles of track laid and millions of people out of their cars. Doesn’t that sound better than giving $700 billion to a bunch of parasitic bankers? By the way, by one estimate, that $700 billion could link most of the US cities by conventional rail.
It could be the biggest recycling program ever! Shred up cars. Separate the metal, glass, and plastic. Reform the materials into rolling stock and track. Think of the benefits! If we change our mode of conveyance to rail, it will immediately affect our land use practices. Suburban sprawl will cease. With a little arm-twisting, people will developed the land along rail corridors so that rail stations are a pleasant walk away from your front door. Retail on the ground floor and residential on the next three or so floors. Leave work, get off the train, and pick up a few items for the evening meal. The station could be above or below ground. If the maximum width of the corridor were twice a 20-minute walk, it would be roughly 2 miles wide. Beyond that would be land restored to agriculture and horticulture and some green belts for wooded areas. Imagine bike paths and trolleys for a trip to a park for picnics. Imagine fresh veg harvested only a couple of miles from your doorstep.
What about the NASCAR rubes and high school boys jonesing for a hemi? Grow up. It’s time to put away childish things and stop thinking like children. The hydrocarbon teat is running dry. It’s time to wean off the oil and get going with a way of life that has a future. Stop identifying with an inanimate hunk of metal and start identifying with a culture. Electrified passenger rail won’t cure all of our society’s ills, but it will get us headed in a direction that will keep mechanized transport in the cards for another several generations. We’ll have to make a few compromises along the way. The pay off will be an easier life than if we hadn’t.