Tuesday, September 7, 2010

World War II Slows Down High Speed Rail

The NYTimes has a piece describing how the US is "playing catch-up" on High Speed Rail (HSR). A more accurate description of the article is how politics affect the planning and financing of HSR in the US. Regardless of the merits (or costs) of HSR, California and now Florida want to make sure that companies that acted badly during World War II are barred from participating in US systems:
But some companies’ home ties are already causing trouble. S.N.C.F., the French national railroad, which is interested in Florida’s high-speed rail project, is running into protests from Holocaust survivors and their families, who cite its role in taking Jews to concentration camps during World War II. The company has responded that it had no control of its operations during that time, according to The Associated Press. But the protests have gotten the attention of the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, who on Friday ordered his secretary of transportation to review the company’s record. California has already acted: Its legislature passed a bill late last month that would require companies interested in rail contracts to disclose their wartime roles.
Considering that the countries on the wrong side of WWII are also some of the countries with developed HSR systems and industries (Japan, France, Germany), these restrictions might be really problematic. So far the protest are limited to the French railroad companies that transported Jews to concentration camps.

But once these (and many other) political issues are resolved, Peter Gertler, the high-speed rail services chairman of HNTB, an engineering and construction management company based in Kansas City, Missouri is confident that HSR will move forward:

Mr. Gertler predicts that after things get rolling, a bandwagon effect will take hold, even in the United States. Once people see a system up and operating, “everybody will want to develop one,” he said.

There is really no better reason to spend billions (maybe trillions!) of dollars on something than the bandwagon effect.

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