A British organization, Friends of the Earth, released a report calling for greater investment in high speed rail in Britain as a way to reduce reliance on air travel and eliminate the need for further expansion of Heathrow Airport. One of the articles about the FOE report quoted an "industry-lobby group" as saying something interesting in response:
However, voters are more concerned with the cost of living than with the environment, according to a poll commissioned by industry-lobby group Flying Matters last year.
Flying Matters appears focused on promoting Heathrow expansion so their claims aren't surprising. And they may not be wrong. Certainly here in the United States we don't have to strain to see examples of people seeing this as a choice between keeping a low cost of living or helping the environment. We can expect the HSR deniers to continue arguing that HSR will cost Californians too much money as part of their effort to kill the project.
But it shouldn't have to be a choice. In fact, it is a false choice. High speed rail is a perfect example of this, because it shows that the environmental option IS the the low cost of living option. Sure, gas prices are on the temporary downswing, but they will continue to rise over the long-term. By the time high speed rail opens around 2018, it will likely be the more affordable option than driving or flying. Even if gas prices increase at a slower rate, it will still be affordable anyway, create jobs, and promote business development.
Nor should we forget the environmental benefits, which also save money in the long run in reduced pollution, reduced carbon emissions, and reduced oil consumption. The notion that helping the environment was an economic loser was never an accurate claim, but it holds even less water than usual with regard to high speed rail.
High speed rail benefits both the environment and the economy. In fact, it's probably time we started seeing the two as fundamentally linked. We who support high speed rail here in California would do well to emphasize those connections.