— Bob Lutz
You know that recent train derailment in Philadelphia, the one that, while killing one-eleventh of the average daily number dying in U.S. car crashes (32,719/365 = 89.6), made the top story in all the major MSM outlets? While the standard spin in the MSM was (and of course had to be) the special terrors (and thus foolhardiness) of rail travel, the reality is that these deaths were due to the worse-than-pathetic treatment of passenger rail in this, the home base and proving ground of corporate capitalist dictatorship.
Per today’s edition of The New York Times:
[D]espite having some of the least-extensive passenger rail networks in the developed world, the United States today has among the worst safety records. Fatality rates are almost twice as high as in the European Union and countries like South Korea, and roughly triple the rate in Australia.
The cause? Hardly a mystery:
According to the International Transport Forum of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States invested less than 0.1 percent of its gross domestic product on rail systems in 2013, a quarter of what was spent by Britain and one-sixth of the investments by France and Australia.
Over the past decade, even developing countries including India, Russia and Turkey have consistently invested far greater shares of their G.D.P. on rail.
Per capita, the United States also comes up short. In 2011, the most recent year for which comparative statistics are available, it spent roughly $35 per person on all rail infrastructure.
By comparison, Japan spent nearly three times as much — more than $100 per person — with the 28 member countries of the European Union investing similar sums.
In terms of safety, the return on that investment has been clear. Japan’s famous Shinkansen “bullet train” network has never experienced a fatal crash or derailment in 51 years of operation, while in France the same can be said of its gleaming fleet of high-speed TGVs, which have zipped across the French countryside for close to three decades.
[W]e are living in the most explosive era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history – from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainforests of Sumatra. By 2050, [experts] estimate, there will be an additional 25 million kilometres (15.5 million miles) of new paved roads globally, enough to circle the Earth 600 times.
From the latest Automotive News:
Ford CEO Mark Fields…said last week: “The good news is as we see that shift into trucks and utilities going forward, that’s a benefit for us because of our profitability on those vehicles.”
The same point applies a hundred fold, of course, when comparing cars in general to the actually sustainable modes of locomotion.
Quite right, yet how is it that we not only have that, but refuse to talk seriously about fixing the problem?
The answer lies in the political economy of what is and what is not discussable. Cars are as profitable and pro-capitalist as they are wasteful and dangerous. Hence, directly discussing and combating their wastefulness and danger is forbidden within the great marketing campaigns we know as mainstream media and mainstream politics.
“People may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous.”
Musk, of course, is thinking only of the immediate dangers to individuals in and around in-service automobiles, not the larger dangers of climate change, resource depletion, and petro-war. He also presumes that driving, not cars-first transportation, is the problem to be addressed.
Nevertheless, the point stands: People may outlaw driving cars because its too dangerous.
TCT hereby goes on record to say the sooner, the better.
Warren Buffett is probably the U.S. overclass’s last and best claim to still possessing some measure of sanity and, therefore, legitimacy. Buffett, after all, is observant and honest enough not only to admit that his class conducts war on it subordinates, but that it tends to win that war.
Ah, but this is corporate capitalism, and, as such, only certain things are thinkable and doable. Building a genuinely sustainable transportation system, as DbC readers know, is not among such things — meaning the system is doomed, not too far hence, to crash on its own contradictions.
Can the great and powerful Wizard of Omaha see and plan for such a fact?
Apparently not. Not only has his Berkshire Hathaway investment empire just completed the biggest take-over of a car dealership conglomerate in American history, but here is how Buffett gushes about this transaction:
Cecil and Larry [Van Tuyl, the now-former owners of the selling enterprise] have given us the ideal platform with which to build an auto dealership business that will be thriving and growing 50 and 100 years from now. The fun has just started. [Source: Automotive News, March 10, 2015]
There is very close to a zero percent chance that anybody will be selling automobiles to ordinary households 100 years from now. The reasons for this inhere in the extreme mismatch between the automobile as a devourer of resources and planet Earth’s limited supply of resources. Obviously, this mismatch does not register on even the sharpest of corporate capitalist minds.
To amplify Upton Sinclair, it is impossible to persuade somebody to understand something, when that somebody’s fortune depends upon not understanding it.
None other than The Economist magazine says that “America’s freight railways….are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.” Our passenger rail, of course, would have to greatly improve to reach the level of a sick joke.
How ironic and telling, then, is this news, as reported by Automotive News?:
Railroad companies are struggling to keep up with surging U.S. demand for trucks and SUVs, frustrating Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
The rail industry’s struggle to keep up with the car industry’s growth was felt last year, when unusually harsh winter weather forced companies to slow down locomotives and run shorter trains. That led to backlogs for commodities that make up a bigger share of cargo, including fuel, coal and grain. The disruptions left automakers with as much as about 250,000 vehicles waiting to be shipped by rail, according to TTX Co., the rail-car pooling operator. The typical industry standard is having about 70,000 shippable vehicles on the ground and waiting to move.
Once again, our grandchildren, should they somehow inherit a livable, hsitorically-aware world, will debate whether to laugh or to cry over this Orwellian technological inversion. As we squandered the planet’s last stocks of easy fossil fuels, the main engine of that squandering overwhelmed one of the main alternatives to the whole terrible charade.
May our descendants somehow forgive us…
Our grandchildren, should we somehow figure out how to leave them a world still capable of such activities, will spend considerable time pondering how and why we allowed our overclass to keep pushing the reign of the automobile for so long after it was eminently clear that relying on moving 3,500 machines for every mundane urban travel task was a very bad idea indeed.
Some of their answer will have to acknowledge the continuance of shameless corporate dogma. Take, for instance, this howler:
So, computers are somehow going to defeat the spatial requirements of moving a 200-million-plus fleet of cars and trucks? Wanna bet?
Despite the silliness of the suggestion, it is a mistake to underestimate the impact of this kind of pie-in-the-sky propaganda. It is a powerful distraction.
General Motors has chutzpah, that’s for sure. Its Chevrolet division, that hidebound, prat-falling purveyor of contemporary civilization’s most inexcusable and outdated “consumer” product, dares to use “Find New Roads” as its main marketing slogan.
Now, GMC is preparing to sell its pick-up trucks to suburbanites by suggesting how handy they might be for facilitating the use of the exact, supremely rational and even sublime machine killed off by cars-first transportation: the bicycle!
Pitching its “premium mid-size truck,” GM says its “2015 GMC Canyon Carves a New Path” by means of “[c]ustomer-focused technologies” that “complement active lifestyles.” Here is a picture of GM fluffers getting ready to show such “lifestyle-supporting accessories” to the professional
mouthpieces journalists at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show:
GM is even bold enough to admit that “not everyone needs full-size capability.” Yes, not everyone.
And how ’bout those active lifestyles?