Thursday, September 13, 2007

We Need High Speed Rail

Via Atrios, the AP has an article on the resurgence of interest in high speed rail:

While sleek new passenger trains streak through Europe, Japan and other corners of the world at speeds nearing 200 mph, most U.S. passenger trains chug along at little more than highway speeds — slowed by a half-century of federal preference for spending on roads and airports.

The six-year-old Acela Express is the only U.S. rail line that tops the 125 mph considered "high speed" by international standards. And even supporters concede it barely qualifies, hitting its maximum 150 mph for less than 20 miles from Boston to Washington, D.C., and averaging just 86 mph over the full 456-mile run.

Even so, Acela's ridership rose 20 percent in May as gasoline prices topped $3 a gallon nationwide, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole. Nationally, Amtrak is poised for its fifth straight year of ridership gains this year, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for the railroad.


John Spychalski, a transportation expert and professor at Penn State University, says high-speed rail will continue to languish unless lawmakers provide the same financial backing as highways and air travel. He said some could be swayed if high-profile projects such as California's succeed.

If you want to get depressed, just imagine for a moment that after 9-11, instead of attacking Iraq, we had invested $600 billion not in bombing another country, but in rebuilding our own infrastructure with a nationwide system of intercity high speed rail. Talk about a true investment in national security.

What's done is done, but it's never too late to see some actual leadership. Instead of running around throwing money at BS "alternatives" like clean coal and ethanol, let's bring our investment in high speed rail up to par or better with the huge subsidies we give away to the plane and the automobile. Hell, if you must have your clean coal, at least use it to generate the electricity to run high speed rail.

Rail could be superior to air or auto transit on many inter-city routes in the US, and is by far the most energy efficient. No conversation about "energy independence" should gloss over the fact that subsidized travel by plane and by car is the largest cause of our dependence on foreign oil.

Reading this article reminded me of a post I saw on Daily Kos back in march on building a national high speed rail network. This has to be a national priority akin to the Eisenhower Highway System, and once again, national security is a compelling reason for doing so (but far from the only reason). Searching for that post, I stumbled upon this post, which ups the ante by laying out stages for construction and integrates with Canada and Mexico for a North American rail network akin to the one in Europe. The map above comes from that post by seaprog.

Elect a Democratic President and we might actually get this started.

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