More Deaths by Car

train-derailment 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.

More From Equine Orifices

george_willAs part of a hilariously paranoid attack on the very idea of railroads, none other than the forever grimacing George F. Will has recently tinkered a bit with the long-prevailing mainstream incantation that automobiles spring from, deliver, and secure personal freedom.

But, along the way, Will’s description of how this supposedly happens skates perilously close to an admission of the trickery and denial at the heart of prevailing doctrine:

Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy.

Will, of course, is being sarcastic here.  He contends, as must all right-thinking opinion makers, that these “delusions” are not delusions at all, but hard and enduring realities.

Nonetheless, the wording is pretty telling.  Indeed, taken out of Will’s larger obfuscatory context, they actual provide a pretty well-written and sociologically powerful description of an important dimension of reality.  Automobiles, as objects, do indeed foster delusions of independence, adequacy, and sovereignty.  They, in themselves, do indeed tend to distract attention from collective situations and decisions, if not from the outside world itself.  Never mind that shared attention to and management of collective situations and decisions is DEMOCRACY.

Of course, the great tramping elephant in the room, the ultimate thing Will labors to conceal, is exactly and precisely corporate capitalists’ constant and careful scripting, supervision, and tutoring of  the transportation choices of the American masses.  Will and other mainstream dogmatists are simply not going to acknowledge that dimension of reality, huge and unchanging as it is, no matter the circumstances.  Instead, they know their story and are sticking to it.

But, still, who knew?  George Will, closet cultural materialist!