Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Is the bullet train mere monorailism?
By MARK LANE
NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
For all the difficulties the English language throws at one, it provides many compensations. First among them is permission to make up new words. Or use words other people made up only in the past few weeks.
Here’s a word I’ve made up: Monorailism.
When I type this out, my word-processing software underlines the word with a wavy red line. That is its way of asking, “Are you serious?”
I am. The word’s root refers to fantastic devices that supposedly would shunt everyone around in a time once referred to as “the future.” Nobody believes that anymore. But back when I was a child, they’d put pictures of these things on the covers of Popular Science and science fiction books, movies and cartoons like “The Jetsons.” They appeared whenever something was needed to suggest a clean future that works.
The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, Disneyland and Disney World built them as a way of proving that age is close enough to touch.
The basic ideas behind this were not unreasonable, indeed, even logical. It was this: Our trains are relics of the past; our cars spew poisonous gases and consume vast miles of real estate. In an improved future, people would surely figure out something better. A lot better.
The improved future is a hard sell these days. But that doesn’t stop monorailism. Monorailism is the continuing belief that we will build wonderful things because we can and that building them will in itself solve a lot of problems. Monorailism believes in devices, products and ideas that are technologically feasible — or at least sound that way — but are economically, commercially and politically quite unfeasible. Neat stuff nobody can pay for. Even in the future.
Supersonic commercial air flight is monorailism. Trips back to the moon are monorailism. Fully electric and hydrogen fuel-cell passenger cars are monorailism. Picture phones using conventional telephone lines are monorailism. Maglev trains even look like monorails. The Star Wars defense system is pure monorailism. In fact, a lot of antiballistic missile plans sound monorailistic to me.
So here’s a question unique to Florida: Is the bullet train raging monorailism?
Enough signatures were gathered last week to put the question on the ballot this November.
Oh sure, it was already on the ballot once before. In 2000 Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to build a bullet train.
They did this even though the governor and legislative leaders said it would cost too much. The governor and legislative leaders also had no plans for doing much of anything about statewide traffic congestion. So, the voters, preferring an expensive solution to no solution at all, approved the amendment.
Faced with a similar choice in 2002, Seattle voters actually approved extending the old World’s Fair monorail line. No joke.
Florida’s Gov. Jeb Bush and Tom Gallagher, the chief financial officer, have succeeded in putting a do-over amendment on the ballot. They argue the train is rampant monorailism, although they don’t use that word. Maybe now that I made it up they will.
They argue the train is unfeasible, too big, too expensive and uneconomical. They also have no big plans for any alternative that would significantly decrease traffic congestion.
They have been jetting around the state speaking against the train. You don’t expect them to drive, do you?
Monorailism versus defeatism. That’s a very hard choice. Even though we made it once already.