The development of high-speed rail has been a tremendous advance. Many people are familiar with the Shinkansen, or Japanese “bullet train” railways that allow cities on the archipelago to be connected with transit times no greater than a few hours. This allows smooth, safe, and efficient economic activity across great distances in a fraction of the time it might normally take to complete the trip. With such obvious benefits, the United States has begun experimenting with high-speed rail projects. One such endeavor is planned in the state of California, where local officials hope to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with rails supporting trains capable of speeds in excess of 200 MPH, theoretically enabling them to cross the distance between the cities in less than three hours. The major snag encountered by this project has been land acquisition, specifically vast acreages of farmland needed for construction of the rails. It seems that in planning, no one in government realized that some of these farms are able to produce millions of dollars a year in crops. As a result, many farmers are refusing to sell, leading authorities to pursue a heavy-handed resource: Eminent domain.
A legal process by which the government is permitted to compulsorily commandeer privately owned land for public use, eminent domain is the bane of property advocates everywhere. Understandably, some of the owners of the Californian farmland being targeted in this case are taking eminent domain claims against them to court; while the government is legally required to offer “fair market value” for any land seized via this method, the farmers point out their substantial annual yields and balk at the offers being made in exchange for their effective forfeiture of said profits. The result is delays upon delays, throwing the project’s entire future feasibility into question.
As is so often the case, the government’s knee-jerk response of using compulsory process against citizens in this case is chilling and self-destructive. What is needed is the financial support of private investors, especially corporations, whose cash resources could pay the inflated prices demanded by the legitimate land owners. In exchange, these companies would be guaranteed a stake in the resultant railways, entitling them to a perpetual share of the profits generated by the public’s use of the high-speed trains. No matter how much the initial outlay, this investment would eventually pay for itself, allowing those with the foresight to get in on the ground floor to see a continuing stream of revenues in the future. And best of all, no one gets bullied off their land.
It all sounds a lot better than prolonged legal battles and thuggish government seizure tactics, and it’s made possible by the greatest resource of a free economy: The private sector.