OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Better defense through rail infrastructure

James Fujita.jpg

There is an urban legend which states that America’s interstate highway system was originally designed to be used as impromptu airstrips in the event of an invasion of the U.S.

There is an urban legend which states that America’s interstate highway system was originally designed to be used as impromptu airstrips in the event of an invasion of the U.S.

As the myth-busting website Snopes points out, this legend falls apart when you consider the dozens of other airports — from major airline hubs to cropduster airstrips — which would have to be disabled before the “freeway runway” idea would make sense. And our highways already perform an important military function — the transport of troops, military vehicles and land-based weapons.

However, there is one superhighway that was built specifically for the military. The “Internet superhighway” started out as a communications system for the U.S. Army. There is a movie here somewhere — the army fears Commie spies coming here and sabotaging our phone lines, so they hire experts to research better, more robust technology. Unfortunately, the best and brightest all work for academic hotbeds of liberalism such as UCLA and Berkeley, so a system initially designed for transmitting missile launch codes eventually evolves into LOLcats and Facebook.

These two vitally important systems have one thing in common. Neither one would exist without the government providing financial assistance.

High-speed rail is America’s next big, important infrastructure project. We need rail transit as badly as we needed the highways and the Internet. Rail won’t get built without federal help. Private funding can’t get the job done by itself — that’s not how Japan, France or Germany did it, and American corporations have shown neither the ability nor the inclination to do it alone.

We need a John F. Kennedy, challenging the United States to reach for the moon. Of course, JFK had a Democratic Congress to work with. Barack Obama is willing to get the job done, but the Republicans who control Congress have been pushing hard in the opposite direction. You can’t build great things when those in charge believe in protecting the personal wealth of “the top one percenters” more than they believe in building great things for America.

While I was writing this, Amtrak suffered the horrible Northeast Regional crash in Philadelphia. According to reports, the accident took place on a stretch of track limited to 50 mph, and known to be difficult to maintain.

The Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington, D.C. is supposed to be the fastest stretch of track in the United States. But, it is also built up out of the remnants of the old Pennsylvania Railroad. It is as if we took Route 66 and expanded it, rather than build a new highway system. It is not nearly as fast as Japan’s Shinkansen — which has a spotless safety record.

The day after the Philadelphia crash, the Republicans in Congress voted to cut funding for Amtrak. In addition to being unfortunate timing, this is entirely the wrong decision to make. Japan did not get to where it is today by cutting corners and ignoring maintenance.

All of our infrastructure badly needs maintenance, and a lot of it. We have put it off for far too long. Would it help if we called infrastructure a defense program?  Defense always gets a huge chunk of our budget. Trains may not defend us against foreign attacks, but fixing our highways, trains, roads, bridges and tunnels would certainly make us more secure.

James Fujita is a former GVN news editor. He works as a copy editor for the Visalia Times-Delta in California’s Central Valley. Fujita can be contacted at jim61773@yahoo.com