Why Do Conservatives Hate Railroads?

Yesterday, The New York Times reported on Republican gubernatorial candidates who have come out against projects to create or expand rail lines in their states. So far, conservative candidates in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and California pledged to end the government’s nefarious plan to expand intercity rail, and create economic opportunity. Of course, this won’t happen anytime soon, since they’re still trying to win their elections. In the meantime, though, they can look to New Jersey’s Chris Christie for inspiration:

The largest federal transit investment in American history is on its deathbed, reports Andrea Bernstein at Transportation Nation. Three sources have told Bernstein that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is ready to pull the plug on the plan to double rail capacity under the Hudson River this week, though Christie denies his mind is made up.

Christie plans to use the money “to patch up the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for a couple of years so that he doesn’t have to raise the gas tax to pay for the state’s roads,” which sounds reasonable but is actually very short-sighted, given the huge long-term benefits of increased rail capacity.

On the question of why conservatives are so opposed to railroads, Paul Krugman suggests that it comes from the fundamentally public nature of railroads:

It’s not too hard to understand, of course: in real life, as opposed to bad novels, railroads aren’t run by rugged individualists (nor should they be). In fact, passenger rail is generally run by government; even when it’s partially privatized, as in Britain, it’s done so with heavy state intervention to preserve some semblance of competition in a natural monopoly. So rail doesn’t fit the conservative vision of the way things should be.

There might be an even simpler answer; a large part conservative identity is driven by opposition to liberals. You see it whenever libertarians defend suburban sprawl as the natural outcome of market forces, rather than the product of government regulation; this conclusion has less to do with reality and more to do with a reflexive desire to oppose liberals, despite the possibility for agreement. Simply put, liberals like railroads, and as such, conservatives must hate them.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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