Christopher Lucero | Why Our Greatness Is in Question

Letters to the Editor
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Understood. We all have different experiences of living and different expectations from which we plan to build a future. It is mystifying when one approach is regressive or stultifying of common and beneficial technologies that would predictably bring widely useful benefits to a broad swathe of citizens.

We tell each other stories in order to communicate our hopes and fears. I have one.

I took a trip to Europe in the summer of 1982; toured through France, Spain, Italy, Germany…as far north as Stockholm in Sweden, east to Austria. I was on a Eurail student pass and stayed in youth hostels. It was much fun and a great way to learn about the world and our fellow Western allies. I had few negative memories of the trip but they are all overshadowed by the growth I attained as a person by the mere fact of traveling and making friends among the locals and visiting places where civilization began growing.

In late 1981, the TGV began service between Lyon, in the south of France, and Paris, the capital and a central hub of French life. I had visited Marseille with my friends and I was traveling stag for a few days while they went to visit their relatives. We had arranged to meet up back in Paris a few days later. I made my way from Marseille to Lyon on my Eurail pass and then decided to splurge. With my Eurail pass and a stipend of around 350 francs (about $60) I purchased a coach seat on the TGV to Paris. It was actually a lot of money to me at the time. I had a part-time internship back stateside that paid around $200 per week post-tax, so I was going to blow a big chunk of one week’s wage on this one trip. This is June 1982, nearly 40 years ago.

Today, the TGV has been found by Frenchmen to be an unmitigated civil engineering (and often fiscal) success.

A modified TGV test train holds the world speed record for conventional trains. On April 3, 2007, a modified TGV reached 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) under test conditions on the LGV Est between Paris and Strasbourg. That same year TGV was the world’s fastest conventional scheduled train, completing a Champagne-Lorraine trip at an average speed of 279.3 km/h (173.5 mph). These days, there is fierce competition between the Chinese high-speed rail and the French technology.

In the meantime, the U.S. national passenger rail carrier system is woefully judged as much less than world class.

Americans have never been able to instantiate a high-speed network for a variety of reasons, mostly related to the cost of clearing the route for the lines. Property rights and the rural owners can sue to attain the maximum for their property, and rightly so.

France has a compliant populace. Their country has been through a lot, so their sense of French-ness is more piqued. France has also contributed a lot to civilization: local Santa Clarita Valley constitutional scholars can tell you that it is based upon philosophies from Rousseau and Montesquieu.

In addition, since the attacks on New York and Virginia 20 years ago, airline travel has lost a lot of shine. An entire generation will never have memory of the freedom of being able to walk up to a ticket counter mere minutes before a flight with your cash or credit card (or, check) and board a flight to almost anywhere… unimpeded by body scans and inspections. We have eerily gravitated to a state of travel that is following that which Israel has been utilizing for much longer, since the 1970s.

I came back from my European trip with new perspective. I thought: What an outrageous future our mighty U.S. economy and populace will build if this is what is already possible elsewhere. Forty years ago.

I am afraid that selfishness stands in the way. We will never again attain greatness as a nation without shedding that bad habit.

World-class transportation is but one of many instances where we have let small minds have an overly large voice. China is – yet again – schooling us and mocking our backward-looking, retrograde “America” of fond memory. There is no future in the glorification of the past; the surest way to become a “has been” is by choosing to remain in the past.

In response to this opinion, I am certain that there will be knee jerking and tirade. Listen closely to those voices for their underlying spirit, and ponder whether they truly advocate for the future competitiveness of our nation.

Christopher Lucero

Saugus

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