Friday, July 27, 2012

The Amazing Google Car vs. Scandal-Plagued High-Speed Rail

I recently took a ride in Google’s experimental driverless car. An engineer drove us to a certain spot, then took his hands off the wheel, his feet off the pedals, and flipped a switch. From there, the car drove along a pre-programmed route completely on its own based on radar, GPS, and other data. This incredible vehicle navigated complicated intersections and four-way stop signs without a hitch. It stopped for pedestrians and avoided parked cars on narrow streets while stunned onlookers snapped pictures. According to the engineers, this technology, which they hope to put on the market in the next few years, could significantly reduce road accidents, allow more cars onto the existing road infrastructure, and shorten travel times.

This breakthrough innovation is a testament to the ingenuity of American business. It stands in stark contrast to government planners who have an inexplicable, romantic attachment to trains. Take California’s extravagant high-speed rail project, whose initial cost estimate has already doubled to $68 billion, while many observers forecast a final cost as high as $100 billion. Recall that “green energy” enthusiasts championed China’s high-speed rail system as a model for our own – until a horrific high-speed rail crash in eastern China killed around forty people. That followed a slew of safety scandals and audits that revealed widespread corruption in China’s high-speed rail project. We don’t hear so much about the glories of Chinese railways anymore, but California’s high-speed rail boosters march blindly forward, oblivious to the fact that the state can’t afford it. 
There’s a clear choice here between two visions: investing tens of billions of dollars we don’t have in a train project whose principal model is mired in scandal, corruption, and death, or asking the government to simply get out of the way and let the creative genius of the private sector blaze a trail into the future.