George Will Often Dreams of Trains

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 4 2011 1:54 PM

George Will Often Dreams of Trains

Grist's Sarah Goodyear interrupts George Will's regularly-scheduled screeds against high-speed rail by pointing out that he once called -- nay, cried -- for high-speed rail. The post-9/11 column she finds is not subtle about this.

Thinningair traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired newurgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker essay on the deadly dialecticbetween the technological advances in making air travel safer and theadaptations to these advances by terrorists.

"Airport-securitymeasures," writes Gladwell, "have simply chased out the amateurs andleft the clever and the audacious." This is why, although the number ofterrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackingsand bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, "thehistory of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods ofattack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities."

[S]hifting more travelers away from the busiest airports totrains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and thenumber of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, aboutindividual travelers. Congress shouldnot adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

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Good get, but if we're going to be talking about stupid ideas people had right after 9/11, we'll be here all day. Will's rail fetish was a passing fancy, and since then he's come around to the conservative consensus that rail can never, ever work as a replacement for air travel, so rail projects are essentially boondoggles.

This is an odd discussion to have as the Atlas Shrugged movie comes out. The book and the film absolutely fetishize rail; the film makes it clear that rail will become necessary once gas starts to really run out. And this is something liberal rail adherents point out, too. But I don't see conservatives coming around to HSR, which needs a massive manpower and financial and land commitment to get going, outside of that sort of crisis thinking.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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