As ideology mires US, might Canada still come first in HSR?

HynesB88X146.JPGBy James G. Hynes
Monitoring the U.S. media re high speed rail (HSR) has provided some insights into the way political issues are treated south of the border. The subject of HSR seems to arouse the same ideological responses that becloud the health care reform issue down there. If you're on the left, no reform goes far enough, and if you're on the right, nothing should be reformed at all. The facts rarely intrude into the debate; instead, the ideologues on both sides trade unrepresentative anecdotes, tendentious propaganda and unfounded claims and predictions.
In the case of HSR, a similar ideological split pits quasi-religious faith in the ultimate goodness of HSR everywhere against the absurd argument that HSR is evil because it won't pay for itself. Like the environmentalists who undermine desirable changes by trying to push them to impossible extremes, the mindlessly pro-HSR proponents undermine sensible proposals by swamping them in rafts of unfeasible ones. And like the right-wing opponents of health care reform, HSR opponents demand that all such projects must be self-financing, a requirement that would have prevented the building of the U.S. interstate highway system, not to mention innumerable bridges, tunnels, expressways, canals, harbours and airports.
It's hard to say whether this is a reflection of over-politicized media distorting reality, or a true reflection in the media of a dysfunctional political system that makes rational law-making impossible. California is currently showing us what happens when diehard ideologues paralyze the political system. It now seems possible (even probable) that something similar is happening in Washington. If Congress can't successfully address a matter as urgent as health care reform, I see little chance that Obama's ambitious HSR plans will ever see the light of day. There may still be time for Canada to get there first — a few decades from now. Click here to read more of Jim Hynes on the compelling case for Canadian high speed rail.

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