How Rail Travel Was Sabotaged by Oil and Rubber Lobbies

[The vast replacement in the U.S. of our railroad and trolley systems by highways did not just happen by accident. It was vehemently lobbied for by the rubber, oil, and automotive and trucking industries back in the 1920s and 1930s I happened to discover when I first started looking as property dispositions back in the 1960s. I don’t remember the experts who were commenting on this potentially disastrous redirection of American transportation, but I was myself aware of the differences between us and Europe from my several years of study in Britain and travels there and on the Continent. I also noted the remnants of rail systems abandoned along highways and the tracks of trolleys here, there and elsewhere buried under paved roads.

After WW2 the trucking industry pressed hard for a system of national highways crisscrossing the country and one could no longer count on long distance passenger rail travel as the airlines moved in. Trains and trolleys (and subways) run on electricity and can draw this energy from a wide variety of sources. Highways and roads require costly maintenance, particularly as they are battered by trucks and busses — the heavy vehicles. The cost of air travel is escalating with the energy crisis.

The upshot is that far too many Americans are now trapped in their overpriced cars and cannot afford essential travel. There is no friendly bus and train service outside of some of our major cities. We personally live in a location with four bus lines and a subway within a block’s walking distance of our home. We gave up our car back in the late 1960s and started renting same for long distance trips and summer vacations. We much have saved many thousands of dollars in driving and insurance expenses over the years and now as we age feel free to take a cab as necessary. There is a lesson, I think, to be learned here. An unwary population may find itself done in by interest groups mobilized to subvert the public interest with their own narrow profit motives.

Beware! The world is now moving into an era of scarce resources and competition to dominate those that still exist — witness the Bush wars in the Middle East. And be glad if you live in a city with adequate transportation and are not stranded somewhere that you can no longer afford! Krugman reports this end of this road below. Ed Kent]

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Stranded in Suburbia
By PAUL KRUGMAN
With rising oil prices leaving many Americans stranded in
suburbia, it’s starting to look as if Berlin, a city of
trains, buses and bikes, had the better idea.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/opinion/19krugman.html?th&emc=th

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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