April 15, 2011

Finally, a way to get liberals to abandon their romantic obsession with high-speed trains.

It's the "Atlas Shrugged" movie! Roger Ebert haaaaates it and mocks the obsession with trains:
Yes, although airplanes exist in this future, trains are where it’s at. When I was 6, my Aunt Martha brought me to Chicago to attend the great Railroad Fair of 1948, at which the nation’s rail companies celebrated the wonders that were on the way. They didn’t quite foresee mass air transportation. "Atlas Shrugged" seems to buy into the fair’s glowing vision of the future of trains. Rarely, perhaps never, has television news covered the laying of new railroad track with the breathless urgency of the news channels shown in this movie.
Thank you, Roger Ebert! I agree. We have planes now. To be enthusiastic about trains is to be like your Aunt Martha, really fossilized.

74 comments:

Maguro said...

Great post, Althouse. This is why we pay you the big bucks.

Expat(ish) said...

I thought the Veep and the gubbmit was wanting to spend a ton of money on high speed rail?

-XC

Richard Dolan said...

"We have planes now. To be enthusiastic about trains is to be like your Aunt Martha, really fossilized."

Little boys love trains. It's an enthusiasm best restricted to that stage of life. Trains are practical when, say, getting from point A to point B involves travelling from the Battery to mid-town. It's too far to walk; a plane won't do you much good; and a car is often even less useful. But I can't think of anyone over the age of three who is enthusiastic about it, including Aunt Martha.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)




Well when OBAMA proposes them Roger Luv’s him sum trainz, I bet…but when some Evillllll, Chid-hat’n, Senior-Starv’n Libertarian uses trains to advance their hateful, racist, anti-womon, homophobic agenda, THEN Roger ain’t so kean on trainz…..it jest dee-pendz…

Obama: Trains are “gude fax”
Ayn Rand: Trains are “bad fax”.

A fax can be either gude or bad, depending upon its use in advancing or failing to advance the narrative. In this case, trains are “bad fax” because they do NOT advance the proper narrative.

Revenant said...

Well of course Roger Ebert hates it. I'm not sure he has ever liked a libertarian or conservative-leaning movie. For example, he criticized a documentary of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attacks for not telling the Palestinians' side of the story.

That being said, it is entirely possible that the movie isn't good. I didn't care for the book, so I have no plans to see it anyway.

Shanna said...

"We have planes now. To be enthusiastic about trains is to be like your Aunt Martha, really fossilized."

At least the book was written 50 years ago. What's Obama's excuse?

Sheepman said...

To be enthusiastic about trains is to be like your Aunt Martha, really fossilized.
Disagree. Economics aside, high speed rail is the way to travel for journeys under 4 hours. More comfortable, convenient, modern, sexy or anything else positive you can think of than sitting in a cramped coach seat on a plane.

FTR, I'm not a liberal.

Ann Althouse said...

"Disagree. Economics aside, high speed rail is the way to travel for journeys under 4 hours. More comfortable, convenient, modern, sexy or anything else positive you can think of than sitting in a cramped coach seat on a plane."

Yeah, if your point of origin and point of destination are railway stations. Maybe in England or something.

vet66 said...

The only thing trains are good for is to transport loaded freight cars in excess of 120 tons if possible and Trailers/containers on flatcars (TOFC/COFC) long distances in unit trains. Passenger service is one step above the bus anywhere except along the east and west coast.

Logistics requirements dictate that shipped loads attain a steady speed from point A to point B without going into the hole (siding) waiting for a passenger train in flyover country.

One crossing accident, snow storm or other delaying occurrence blows the logistics schedule upon which production depends.

A good argument can be made for passenger trains, aka light rail, assuming that people live next to a station and work near the destination station within walking/bicycle/golf cart commuting distance in moderate weather.

Better to be groped at a regional airport than subject yourself to days of third class passenger train travel.

KenK said...

Seems like movie producers could have updated the technological focus of the story for the sake of modernity (or set it back in 1950's) but Randroids just don't tinker with her stuff. That would be blasphemy.

howzerdo said...

I take the train quite often to New York City, Syracuse or Buffalo, and occasionally to other places in the northeast corridor. Amtrak thunders through my village several times per day, stopping about 7 miles away. I'm more than 46 years over being three years old (I guess that makes me "fossilized" though I'd argue I am way less so than either Rand or Ebert) but I am very enthusiastic about trains. I love them.

Lincolntf said...

My wife and I are headed to see the matinee tomorrow. She's not looking forward to it and I'm going largely so I can participate in the inevitable online dissection. It has the two ingredients we both require for a possibly sucky movie: it's less than two hours long and it's at the "nice" theater.

Bonnie said...

Try going without electricity for a while, and trains might seem a bit more important to you.

Come with me and drive across the great state of Wyoming, heading for my sister's ranch. We let the kids count the coal cars on the UP railroad and they usually give up after a hundred cars or so. Once every trip you'll see a pass-by, where a thundering engine pulling hundreds of cars of coal passes another one going the other direction, pulling empties on the way to be filled. I love trains.

They haul coal, oil, cars, and hundreds of tons of freight that are offloaded into railyards onto trucks who then drive them to your grocery store, auto dealership, and Wal-Mart.

Dagny's high-speed rail line in Atlas Shrugged, the John Galt line, was a freight line to haul oil from the oil shale fields of Colorado. It was not a passenger train. And yes, I've got tickets to the movie tonight!

george said...

Does this mean Obama is wrong to be all gaga over the shiny new train set he wants us to buy him?

He already has the GM car set and the Wall Street bank set but he has grown tired of them and needs to something else to entertain himself.

Kensington said...

I'm mildly curious to read Ebert's negative review of "Scre4m" (yes, I wrote it like that), but I can't do it because the "Scream" movies rely on surprise revelations, and Ebert almost certainly will have spoiled at least some of them in his review.

This, of course, makes him largely useless as a critic, at least until after you've seen the film he's reviewing.

FloridaSteve said...

I don't get why they didn't do a period piece either but so what. You're telling me that people can suspend disbelief for talking robots that turn into trucks but can't possibly take in a movie (which has a much larger goal than pure entertainment) for a few hours that uses outmoded trains as a foil. Um.. Ok I guess.

Methadras said...

This movie has Garage McDumbfuck written all over it. You have a conservative message, check and he gets to see the choo-choo's, check.

Shanna said...

Yeah, if your point of origin and point of destination are railway stations. Maybe in England or something.

And if the price was lower than plane travel, which it often is not.

Sheepman said...

Yeah, if your point of origin and point of destination are railway stations. Maybe in England or something.
It makes sense where railway stations are downtown and connected to good local mass transportation. That would include the Boston to Washington corridor. Not sure what else would be suitable in the US.

Have you ever been on a high speed rail line? IMO, it's a futuristic thrill.

Ty Bowen said...

If you think air planes can replace trains for freight you have no idea how strong and cheap trains are. Airplanes can't even outdo trucks (remember the Berlin Air lift when the Allies finally managed to fly in more then they had been trucking in?). Airplanes just have speed (although mag rails and the much shorter pre boarding time (2 hours domestic now?) are important to consider) And the argument that you have to have a rail station to use trains is no different then airplanes (which need airports and landing strips). Plus trains are very heavily regulated, which prevented a lot of their development and refinement in the same way that airlines are now feeling the throttle of over regulation. I also like trains because I grew up in a town that had a busy train (for real freight of course) and hearing a train whistle always reminds me of home and childhood.

Milwaukee said...

Trains in areas of high population density might work for people. However, what trains do best is move lots of freight through a hole the engine punches in the air. (Which is why people standing too near a speeding train get sucked into it.) Steel wheels on steel rails is far superior to rubber tires on asphalt. Passenger trains get priority over freight, which means perishables are at risk because of passenger trains causing delays. We should have fewer passenger trains.

President Obama suggested trains as a way to avoid TSA groping at airports. That woman in charge of Homeland Defense has suggested TSA groping for trains and buses. I will keep my car maintained and running as long as possible.

Maguro said...

It makes sense where railway stations are downtown and connected to good local mass transportation. That would include the Boston to Washington corridor.

Yeah, unfortunately that is precisely the area where environmental regulations and NIMBYism make it next to impossible to build something like a HSR line.

Sheepman said...

And if the price was lower than plane travel, which it often is not.
True, but high speed rail can out compete the low cost carriers on some routes. RyanAir just dropped their Madrid-Valencia route after a high speed line opened up. And RyanAir is about as low cost as air travel can get.

Revenant said...

Economics aside, high speed rail is the way to travel for journeys under 4 hours.

Use a car. They're better. :)

William said...

I live in NYC. Trains are not a bad way to get to Washington or Boston. I've taken some long distance trips just for fun. It's a very pleasant travel experience to lie down in a Pullman sleeper and watch the miles go by. I hope the possibility of train travel always exists. If time and money are not issues (which occasionally happens among my demographic), rail is far superior to air travel.

Lincolntf said...

Best use of trains in the U.S? Getting from Fenway to Framingham in exactly enough time for the designated driver to sober up enough to drive the rest of the way home.

Smilin' Jack said...

We have planes now. To be enthusiastic about trains is to be like your Aunt Martha, really fossilized.

Sounds like you haven't flown lately.

Jay said...

That would include the Boston to Washington corridor.


Flying is cheaper and faster to/from NYC to DC, NYC to Boston, Boston to DC.

Lincolntf said...

"Flying is cheaper and faster to/from NYC to DC, NYC to Boston, Boston to DC."

That's a fact, Jack. No matter how you slice it, air is always cheaper and faster, often by orders of magnitude.

Coketown said...

Disagree. Economics aside, high speed rail is the way to travel for journeys under 4 hours...FTR, I'm not a liberal.

I'm glad you clarified. "Economics aside" is typically an implicit caveat liberals make about government operations. "It may not be economically viable, but boy is it sexy!"

Shanna said...

That would include the Boston to Washington corridor.
Do you know how long that train ride would take versus the plane? And generally a plan ride is a similar price. That is why train’s aren’t worth it in our country. The one place they might work is still economically pretty useless compared to the alternative, unless you just like trains. So, basically, trains are just for people who like paying the same price to take longer to get somewhere...that's not something the taxpayers should be subsidizing.

I did take the train from Philly to DC once and it was fine. Beats driving, but I would have driven if I had to pay for it.

Alex said...

Seems like movie producers could have updated the technological focus of the story for the sake of modernity (or set it back in 1950's) but Randroids just don't tinker with her stuff.

Did you have your fun calling people names?

Alex said...

The great thing about trains is no TSA groping/porno-scanners. oops, that's up next.

D. R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
d-day said...

Ebert's a good writer, but too often agenda-blind lately.

Leaving to see Atlas Shrugged in a few minutes. I have to venture to the art-film theater down near the University.

I wonder what the teenage homeless-by-choice "artists" and strident University morons will think of the white-bread Republicans about to descend into their midst. Ward and June Cleaver head to Berkeley . . . .

I'm wearing tourist gear for the occasion. Shorts and a camara. Does anyone have a fanny pack I can borrow?



WV: gauctate
Gross.

d-day said...

I read an article once that held the European passenger train-centric model was the opposite of what we should strive for, and that Americans are doing it precisely right. In Europe, passengers move by train, freight generally more often by road, overall. I guess there are lots of "lorries."

In America, we move freight by train and people by car. (Not exclusively, but the ratio of freight/passenger travel is very different than Europe's.)

It works better by keeping that moving freight out of the way of crushable people. Plus, it makes more sense to move freight in a hub-and-spoke arrangement than people. The expensive infrastructure required for trains is generally worth maintaining as it's used for almost exclusively profit-making enterprises.

I wish I could remember the source, but the arguments always struck me as plausible.

ricpic said...

And if it was planes instead of trains the complaint would be lack of fealty to the book.

Sheepman said...

Flying is cheaper and faster to/from NYC to DC, NYC to Boston, Boston to DC.

Yes, because there isn't a dedicated HSR line in that corridor.

Madrid-Barcelona in 2007 was the busiest air route in the world. When a HSR line opened with a speed of 186 MPH, about twice the speed of the northeast corridor route, the HSR market share went to well over 50% for that route. The 386 mile journey takes about 2 1/2 hours. NYC to DC is about 225 miles.

MadisonMan said...

Aunt Martha is a good band.

Sheepman said...

I agree with those of you arguing the virtues of freight transportation by rail. Both freight and HSR would be best served with dedicated tracks.

Michele said...

Ebert gave Hanna 3 1/2 stars and Atlas Shrugged 1 star.

Bill Whittle's scathing review of Hanna confirmed what I thought about Ebert -- Ebert is a lefty elitist who knows better than everyone else. Any movie that allows Ebert to spew his leftist clap trap will get a good review and any movie that leans right will not.

J said...

Alas, there was no train to carry off Miss Rand nee Rosenbaum off to like some ...efficient camp where she might have been dealt with.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)
Madrid-Barcelona in 2007 was the busiest air route in the world. When a HSR line opened with a speed of 186 MPH, about twice the speed of the northeast corridor route, the HSR market share went to well over 50% for that route. The 386 mile journey takes about 2 1/2 hours. NYC to DC is about 225 miles.



And a WHOLE buncha figger’n needs to be done on this statement…so how much did the land and development of the HSR take on this route? And who provided it? And is the operator of that route the owner of the debt/development cost? Because IF the Madrid-Barcelona HSR Co (M-BHSRRC) had the Spanish Government pay for the rail, guess what, the ticket price doesn’t adequately “cost” the expense of the M-BHSRRC, meaning that the ticket doesn’t reflect the cost, meaning a ticket may be “Cheaper” than a ‘plane ticket, ONLY because ALL Spaniards pay for the M-BHSRRC, rather than those using the line.

Original Mike said...

I'm waiting for Garage's movie review.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)
…HSR would be best served with dedicated tracks.



Sure, and when we colonize Planet Avalon, that might be one of the first things we do, lay out the HSR RoW’s…but on Planet Earth, any place where HSR makes sense, densely populated areas, the RoW’s are already clogged with housing, malls, factories, and the like…making it IMPOSSIBLE to, economically, acquire these “dedicated” tracks.

edutcher said...

Everything old is new again.

Or something like it.

Coming from the Philadelphia area, trains are useful for some commutes that are long enough, you really don't want to drive.

Also nice if you want to see the scenery.

ampersand said...

One of my favorite critics,John Simon, described Ebert and his then partner Gene Siskel as idiot savants.
I think he was wrong about the savant part.

I stopped watching those two when they bolted from PBS to a lucrative syndication deal but would praise films that were critical of the greed of the Reagan years,or the greed of the Thatcher years if the film was British.

I don't read his reviews anymore,but if you glance thru RottenTomatoes.com He consistently gives thumbs up to bad movies that are made by Hollywood insiders. His reputation for film criticism basically boils down to "As Seen on TV"
The Chicago SunTimes for some reason tried to promote him as a political critic.
I think he should just stick to eating his own head.

d-day said...

Sitting in the theater now. Some guy gave me free tickets ouutsid.

I used them. Thus violating the premise of the movie.

VERY CLEVER, lefty plant.

MadisonMan said...

meaning that the ticket doesn’t reflect the cost, meaning a ticket may be “Cheaper” than a ‘plane ticket, ONLY because ALL Spaniards pay for the M-BHSRRC, rather than those using the line.

Your argument would hold more weight if airports were not developed and subsidized by the government.

Der Hahn said...

You can pretty much be sure that an Ebert interpretation of some feature of a movie is more revealing of Ebert's bias than the movie. I wish I could recall where I read this but a recent description of "Atlas Shrugged" said the scriptwriters had moved the setting into the near future (2016 IIRC) where trains were revived as the only fuel efficent means of long distance transportation.

garage mahal said...

This movie has Garage McDumbfuck written all over it.

Ah, thanks, but no thanks Angry Baby. It sounds like a pretty suck-ass movie. Not surprising.


Your argument would hold more weight if airports were not developed and subsidized by the government.


SSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH! (I don't think they know)

Sofa King said...

Your argument would hold more weight if airports were not developed and subsidized by the government.

I seem to recall that most airports are profitable, or nearly so...

Original Mike said...

We subsidize roads, which millions of people use. We subsidize airports, which millions of people use. But we're not willing to cough up subsidies to a new fangled train system, which thousands of people might use.

I guess the argument here is that we are being unfair to choo-choos.

Joe said...

I figured the movie was going to just plain suck regardless of trains or not.

MadisonMan said...

But we're not willing to cough up subsidies to a new fangled train system,

Think of it as subsidizing economic development.

MadisonMan said...

And I can't believe that Althouse will actually go see this movie.

Take your earplugs if you do. I will when I go see HP8.

Mogget said...

I've seen it now, in Madison. There were about fifty people in the theater for the 10:35 AM showing.

It is, I think, a pretty good adaptation of the book. I enjoyed it. But oh my, they nailed Barney Frank with the Wesley Mouch character.

Original Mike said...

"Think of it as subsidizing economic development."

I would, if it was, but it ain't so I won't.

Original Mike said...

"Think of it as subsidizing economic development."

Or, to dispense with the snark, I think high speed rail has little economic bang for the subsidy buck.

Maguro said...

The problems with high speed choo-choos are obvious to those who care to look. You have enormous fixed costs, a completely inflexible routing system and relatively low speeds.

For long distances, pure physics dictates that trains can't compete with airplanes.

For short distances, bus service gets you there about as fast for less money and without subsidies.

In the few places in thiis country where it might work economically, the regulatory and legal obstacles are almost impossible to overcome.

Trooper York said...

Roger Ebert is just about the only guy that can get you to root for cancer. Just sayn'

Synova said...

"Alas, there was no train to carry off Miss Rand nee Rosenbaum off to like some ...efficient camp where she might have been dealt with."

Considering how many people were loaded on a train and "dealt with" in Rand's native Russia as a direct result of communism there and, since J felt it necessary to provide an obviously Jewish patronym to apparently make a point, how many people of Jewish ancestry were loaded on a train and "dealt with" in Europe I think that I can safely say, J, that this is a humor-fail.

Try again.

Or just admit deliberate douchery.

Historical fact is that Rand was always on the side opposing the sort of camps you suggest to take care of those who don't think correctly, and those who find Rand horrible have always been on the side of mass murder for the common good.

Historical fact, and no end to real human horror, and a rather revealing subject to decide to be funny over.

The antisemitism is just a bonus.

Jay said...


Yes, because there isn't a dedicated HSR line in that corridor.


What is the Acela express?

Jay said...

Yes, because there isn't a dedicated HSR line in that corridor.

No matter if there were HSR, it still would be faster (and less expensive) to fly from Dulles to Logan.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Wait until they get to the part with alternative energy engines powered by static electricity in the air. (I swear to God, it's in the book!)

Andrew said...

I don't understand the hubbub. I actually really like the book and the ideas in it, but never thought about it as "pro-train." I also haven't seen the movie yet so I can't just how accurately they stuck to the story, but it seems like using trains is just using what was in the book. I doubt they're trying to push a train agenda around.

Michael said...

Took the very expensive and not particularly fast Acela from Boston to NY a few weeks ago to see what the lure was. I paid up for first class. The service was surly, slow and what you would expect from the post office. The food was shit. The seats were reasonably comfortable. The train went fast about three times between Boston and NY, the rest of the time the speed of the regular train. The Acela beats the regular train by about 30 minutes. I expect the same featherbedding rules pertain today that did 50 years ago when trains were on their last legs.

PatCA said...

A short but sweet review from the conservative side.

http://www.libertasfilmmagazine.com/lfm-review-atlas-shrugged-part-i/

I'm going to see it anyway, just for...support.

Clyde said...

Seems like I read somewhere that this adaptation is set in a 2016 where gas costs $16 a gallon or some such. At that price point, trains start looking a lot more attractive.

E.M. Davis said...

Seems like I read somewhere that this adaptation is set in a 2016 where gas costs $16 a gallon or some such. At that price point, trains start looking a lot more attractive.

Are they steam engines? Or is diesel magically cheaper?

Joanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanne said...

Hi Ann, I saw the movie yesterday at the first available viewing in Baton Rouge. In the movie, the media is not excited about trains, they're excited about the new REARDON steel that might fail catastrophically as predicted by the State Science Institute. And as others here have said, the John Gault Line is a freight line moving western shale oil, which production Mr. Wyatt destroys at the end of Part. 1.
The premise is that by 2016, the collusion between big business and big government using collective idealogy has so skewed the economy that most industry is no longer functioning productively. There are still a few islands of productivity (some freight lines in Colorado, Reardon Steel, Wyatt Oil, etc.) and the tension of the movie is watching the noose of the collective tighten around their productive necks as the story progresses. It's like watching a boa constrictor creep up on its prey. So, Ann, what's your take on the movie?

Pat Patterson said...

If Ryanair was state owned like SNCF and its Spanish branch then it very well could still be flying that Madrid to Valencia route because someone in the EU would have decided to subsidize the air route to protect Spanish and French jobs. But since Ryanair isn't subsidized its operator decided why bother to compete with the governments of those two countries.

John0 Juanderlust said...

Neither the book or the movie is about trains and their advantages or disadvantages. In the movie they are more important than today because they can ship freight more cheaply. As they can today. Only then fuel is even higher.

It is amazing how angry people get over the mention of Rand or Atlas Shrugged, all the while blaming her, her books, her fans for being hateful and dogmatic.

Synova--you are right.