The Corner

The Phobias of High-Speed-Rail Enthusiasts

There is an inescapable conclusion to be drawn from Wendell Cox’s excellent takedown of high-speed rail: Choo-choo supporters must be nuts.

Well, maybe they are.

Think about your relatives. Scratch a Democrat who like trains, and you usually find someone who’s nervous about driving and/or flying. The syndrome doesn’t necessarily mean they never fly or drive, but they do practice all sorts of avoidance maneuvers — preferring, for example, vacations via ship rather than air. They’re okay with short drives to the neighborhood market, but for longer ones they’ll take a bus or a train. They change their lifestyle, congregating in cities and suburbs with good mass-transit connections. This is the core constituency for high-speed rail.

A quick Google search indicates there are hundreds of commercial programs to try to get these people over their phobias. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for Boeing found that up to one in three adults is anxious or fearful about flying. Twice as many women fear flying as men. Driving? The best study I could come up with was from New Zealand, which found that 17–20 percent of the elderly were mildly afraid of driving and 4–6 percent rated a moderate to severe level of driving anxiety and fear. Other studies show that a large proportion of people who have been in auto accidents develop a permanent fear of driving.

I’m not real happy with any of those studies, but they suggest that somewhere between 5 and 15 percent of the population are utter fruitcakes on the subject of transportation. Democratic strategists probably have the exact number; there’s no interest group too small for a strategic pander.

What I’d really like to see is a nice Rasmussen poll, with crosstabs, that would look at the prevalence of various phobias by party. If it’s as bad as I suspect, Republicans might want to consider a new approach to high-speed rail. Rather than kill it, they could offer amendments to redirect the funds toward mental-health programs.

 — Lou Dolinar is a retired columnist and reporter for Newsday.

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