Renewing Rural America with High-Speed Rail

I live in a tiny town in a rural area. The population is around 5000 people. Over its history, it’s gone from a flourishing agriculture hub, pre-Civil War, to a rural industrial complex post World War II. Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, this area has been in steady decline. You see, when the financial crisis hit, this area was already seeing a decline in its most valuable asset, kaolin. Kaolin is chalk. It’s mined from mineral deposits left over millions of years ago when this area was an actual coastline. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, a large pristine kaolin deposit was discovered in this area. It could be mined from the ground and took minimal refining to make it usable. As more and more kaolin was removed from the ground, those pristine deposits became less and less over time. More refining had to take place, costing the mining companies more to process the kaolin to sell. In search of cheaper costs, many companies started getting their kaolin from other areas. While the mining business still exists here, it’s nothing like it was when I was a kid. Back then, you’d see chalk trucks on the highways seven days a week, moving clay. There is a noticeable difference in mining activities now from when I was younger. As you get older, you think back to when all the old-timers used to reminisce about the good old days and begin to realize you’re now one of them.

Relying on Non-renewable Resources   

When I was a kid, I’d hear those same old-timers talk about the kaolin and talk about it running out one day. They’d talk about geologists predicting we’d have enough around for the next 30-40 years. Well, I graduated High School 26 years ago, and it seems that prediction was correct. It’s strange how science can do that, huh? The problem with this declining industry around here is the first thing to go are the jobs that rely on this industrial complex before its complete decline. Many of the construction jobs in this area no longer exist because they relied on the work from these refining facilities. The companies will be here till the end. They’ll continue to hire fewer and fewer employees. So, as you can imagine, the unemployment rate is higher in this area than it used to be.

Typical kaolin refinery facility
Kaolin mine almost completely stripped of it’s clay. I remember as a kid riding by this mine and it was completely white. Now after years of mining the deposit is almost completely gone

The Effects of Unemployment and Under-Employment

A lot of people think, “Well, if there isn’t any work there, just leave.” Some can, but for others, it’s much more complicated than that. For many, this place is all they know. Honestly, they think the world is a war zone outside of this county. That’s what happens when you get all your news from one right-leaning news network. Others have more extenuating circumstances. They may have exuberant debt. They could have loved ones that rely on them to be around. It’s just the human factor, you know. But in the past twenty years of this decline, I’ve witnessed the people of this small-town decline with it. There has been a methamphetamine epidemic, accompanied by prescription pill abuse, and in recent months violent crimes have been on the rise. Just this year alone, people have been arrested for drive-by shootings, gang violence that resulted in a shootout in the center of town, and just this past week, a local schoolteacher, who had been missing for a week, was found dead off the side of a rural county road. Foul play is suspected. All of this would’ve been unheard of when I was growing up here. And it’s all linked to a lack of employment opportunities, I think. “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” At least, that’s what I was told as a child. People participating in these types of activities are lost. They feel they have nothing to lose. Many may say they are broken. They are broken because they have lost hope. Their hope has run out along with the employment opportunities that existed here at one point. It’s not just a lack of employment either. I know people here with their bachelor’s degree, working as a server at the Waffle House or a cashier at Wal-Mart, whatever to make ends meet, due to a lack of employment opportunities that may have been here in the past that are now gone. That must be a blow to their self-esteem. Think about it?

Desperate Times Breed Desperate Measures

That feeling of desperation drags those people down in a state of depression that, frankly, I wouldn’t want to tread close to. That’s why there is rampant drug use in so many economically depressed areas. So many use drugs to dull the sting to their ego. They knew, at one point, there was a better life than this. They saw it as children. Their piece of the pie was taken from them at the table and tossed on the floor. Drug use leads to other crimes of desperation. Drug dealers make money, and a vicious cycle ensues. Those that don’t fall into the cycle of crime become bitter and latch onto anyone who says they can make it better for them. I still see Donald Trump signs in people’s yards. Trump hats and propaganda are still alive in dying little areas like this all over the country. All because they all feel left out and forgotten, and people like him prey on them for support. He’s just like one of the local drug dealers. It’s a shame.

Photo taken on 06/05/21. Seven months after his defeat in the general election. The big lie is still strong in this area
Turning 45 degrees from the Trump billboard. The blighted properties located directly beneath

What People Need

What people need is action. Like many dying areas in rural America, this area was raped and pillaged by large companies for its natural resources. Once the resources were removed, those large multi-million-dollar companies packed up shop and moved on to the next spot, leaving the people who had become dependent on them behind to fend for themselves. With no jobs and minimal opportunities, these communities begin to cannibalize themselves and soon turn to skeletons of their former glory. There’s a way to fix these dying communities, though; the infrastructure is there; if our leaders would open their eyes and look forward to progress instead of examining past mistakes and placing blame, they would see. What is one thing all these old industrial areas have in common — railways. If our government would invest in a high speed rail infrastructure like Japan, China, and Europe, people could take the train into the larger cities and work. If I rode a train for an hour to Atlanta to work, got paid the same wage as people in Atlanta do, then came home to this area to live every day and many others here did the same, this would become a thriving area once again. All small towns throughout the country would see a new explosion of growth. In many of the larger cities, there is a homeless problem. Many of those people work. Yet, they can’t afford the expensive housing in the city. Take, for instance, my house. It is 1800 square feet with a carport, concrete driveway, a lovely little home with a 12-acre pond in the backyard. I paid $85000. This same house in Atlanta would be around $500,000 or more. A high speed rail system throughout this country would solve so many problems almost overnight.

Invest in the Most Valuable Commodity

In this world, the most valuable commodity you can invest in is the people. Providing high speed rail would be the equivalent to the interstate project tackled after World War II. Look at how that transformed our country. It is past time the infrastructure of this country is updated. It’s time for the people of this country to start calling out the politicians who use infrastructure as a political talking point. We, the people, must demand action to protect our future.