Op-ed: Texas Republicans must stop sabotaging the bullet train

It’s no secret that Republicans in Texas are bought and paid for by special interests. They have consistently stood in the way of any effort to change our dependence on cars and airplanes. This should come as no surprise, since one of the country’s most influential interest groups is the auto industry. According to the National Institute on Money in Politics, Greg Abbott has has received over $4,600,000 from the auto industry in campaign contributions.

While Texas Republicans are to blame for getting in the way, it’s the auto industry itself that has created this problem. Since the 1950s, they have pressured politicians to build our whole society around a single machine: the car. This would have major ramifications for the country in the future.

Suburbs, and by extension, sprawl are entirely an invention of the auto industry. Following intense lobbying by General Motors, Ford, and other major automakers, the federal government decided to subsidize only the development of single-family homes and wide roads, instead of building dense housing on the outskirts of cities. These days, for residents of suburban areas, walking or cycling to a destination is nearly impossible, and public transportation like buses and train are unobtainable.

Sprawl not only creates problems for the environment, but also for your personal health. As more and more people depend on their personal vehicles, they create more and more emissions that we inevitably breathe.

The airline industry is another major contributor to our modern transportation problems. A fast and affordable high-speed rail system would bankrupt national airlines almost overnight. And rightly so, airplanes are a significant contributor to our emissions problem, yet they receive hefty government subsidies just to stay in business. The airline industry has lobbied against rail and high-speed rail for decades, all the while staying in business with your taxpayers’ money.

Intense lobbying by the airline industry would certainly explain why Amtrak is treated as a corporation by the federal government, instead of a public utility. Amtrak tickets are extremely expensive compared to rail in Europe and China, and it’s certainly not because our rail technology is superior, Amtrak’s fleet is incredibly dated. Simply put, Amtrak is not supported by the government on the same level as the Post Office, because that would hurt the bottom line of the airline and auto industries.

Now take a country like China, although it is certainly not a leader on the climate change front, it is however the world leader in the development and implementation of high-speed rail. China is a country relatively similar in size to the United States. However, instead of relying exclusively on air transport and domestic cars, China has decided to build a network of high-speed rail lines. In 2008, they inaugurated their first high-speed train project that would connect Beijing and Shanghai. Now, in 2022, they have connected all major population centers and have begun to expand to smaller towns.

High-speed rail not only has climate benefits and personal health benefits, but there are also huge economic benefits that can come from high-speed rail. Think about it, an Austin resident could commute by bullet train to work in Dallas. A business leader in Houston might take a 30-40 minute train ride to that 12-hour meeting in San Antonio. Families could make a weekend trip from Laredo to Dallas and get there faster, without having to worry about parking and gas costs.

Texas Republicans claim to be pro-business and pro-economic growth, but when it comes to the issue of high-speed rail, they are blind to its benefits because of their auto industry donors. In fact, the state is currently trying to sabotage a private high-speed rail project that would link Houston and Dallas. So much for the free market, huh?

Texas Republicans are so behind on the bullet train issue, but that should come as no surprise to a party that is fighting hard to get us back to the 20th century.

Jose P. Rogers