Thursday, December 07, 2006

Airline Hegemony and The Future Of High-Speed Passenger Rail In The US

In a discussion about the ramifications of the possibility of using tax policy to influence consumer behavior and public policy with regard to the mutually-implicated Energy/Environmental crises and the reliance upon carbon-based fuels on Eschaton this morning, a commentor nymmed Dead Horse opined as follows: "With a highspeed rail, I don't think I'd take planes anymore."

Which implicates Reason #1 why there will not be soon ANY serious effort to build such things as cross-country, high-speed rail links: it'd be destructive of the airlines. Airlines are huge contributors to the campaign coffers of politicians on both sidesof the aisle. Not surprisingly, they were huge beneficiaries of federal largesse in the aftermath of IX/XI, to the tune of many BILLIONS of federal dollars, tax breaks, and govt-sanctioned labor-contract-abrogations.

To understand how powerful the airlines are, consider the following: I think it extremely likely likely that the Busheviks had some advance information about the forthcoming IX/XI attacks. But I also think they forestalled doing anything to preclude the hijackings that would discommode passengers because to have installed enough protection to have prevented the attacks would have driven people away from the planes, and ruined the airlines without having the terrorists upon which to blame it.
I mean: Try to imagine the scene at any airport through which you've travelled since IX/XI, with the regimen of searches, sanctions, and other silly regulations imposed on travellers WITHOUT the memory of IX/XI to legitemate them. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the measures now in place through the TSA DO in fact actually help to prevent the sorts of attacks on aircraft that made IX/XI possible, can you imagine people subjecting themselves placidly to those kinds of petty and senseless abuses WITHOUT the visions of those falling building to chasten them?
I cannot, either. So, if those measure had been instituted prior to IX/XI, the airline industry would likely have crashed in almost exactly the same ways that they did in the aftermath of the attacks, but without the handy scape-goat of alQaeda to blame for them. People would have stayed away from airlines in droves. Profits would have fallen, routes would have closed, personnel would have been laid off, and the airlines wouldn't have been able to siphon off the several billions of dollars in aid they scammed after the attacks actually did happen.
Of course, the central irony of the entire episode is that, since 1970 or so, airline safety/security advocates had proposed--and the airlines, with the complicity of the Govt had fiercely resisted--the single expedient that would have unquestionably thwarted the attacks of IX/XI, and obviated the need for all the subsequent inconveniences: re-inforced/impenetrable doors onto the flight deck. For 30 years at least, safety and security experts had warned of the vulnerability of the flight deck. But airlines didn't want to spend the extra money it would have cost to install doors onto the flight deck that could have withstood such attacks as the IX/XI terrorists mounted that fateful day.

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