On Robert Reich's blog yesterday Linda said this:
I live out close to motown and over the years I have had many conversations with people who are studying the feasibility of alternative transportation systems.
Amtrak needs to be subsidized in this country because it is such a small, archaic system. If you want to go somewhere, try finding a scheduled train that goes there. It doesn't exist...except for some old established routes in the Eastern sector that date back to the pre-highway days. Anyone who has been to Europe knows what excellent train service is...it is one of the most convenient, safe and comfortable ways to travel. Imagine being able to drink a cup of coffee and catch up on the morning news quietly on your way to work each morning.
The U.S. has put a huge investment in roads and creating infrastructure to support the auto industry because automobiles have been at the core of our industry since the industrial revolution. But personal cars may soon become obsolete, whether we like them or not. The oil supply could run out a lot quicker than people realize. For example, I live in a town close to the auto factories where people commute let's say 35 miles a day to work. When gas prices were high last spring, it cost upwards from $20 a day for some employees just to make the daily round trip to the factory. It is conceivable that in the next five years, or even the next couple years, that gasoline prices could rise to the point where a single commuter roundtrip would cost $100. What would happen then? How would people get to their jobs?
Trains are a much more energy efficient way to get people to their jobs than cars. Right now in Michigan, local government is looking into a way to get an old railroad line working in our community and people are very excited about it.
You say that it would take decades to build a good railroad system..not necessarily, especially if it were a major national priority. Obama wants to build the infrastructure: this would be a great way to put people to work and give people jobs, and in a very short space of time, it would be an industry that would be self-sustaining and stimulate other sectors of the economy.
Obama says he wants to work on the infrastructure by building more roads, and this worries me. I think it's time to get in there and suggest that we work on a railway system instead.
Art a Layman said this:
As far as a profitable venture goes, that will greatly depend on our cultural propensities. Now we can argue chicken or egg but the fact is that American consumers don't want to leave their cars at home. That has been the reason for the long and prosperous car industry in America. Even more, in America cars have become an extension of our personna. Many consumers seek cars with styling that fits the image they have of themselves or dream of having. That's one of the reasons we still see big engines and high speed capability. Americans thrive on big and it seems that mankind in general is enthralled with speed, but none more than we Americans.
There are many areas around the US where existing rail infrastructure would be a good start. There are many others where suburban expansion, for miles around, has moved much of the populace away from existing railroad tracks. This will mean expanding tracks, establishing way stations, quite often on privately owned land. Some owners will jump at the chance to sell their land for a profit, others, for whatever reason, will not want to sell. No problem, eminent domain laws, simple. Except that lawsuits ensue, possibly all the way up to the Supreme Court and again, Tempest fugits.
Now I'm not familair with Europe but my understanding is that rail systems have existed there for a long time. Further the population/land density is significantly different than in the US. If rail transportation was vital as cities expanded certainly that would have been considered in municipal planning. In the US no such consideration was necessary. Major cities where the industrial sector is situated around the urban centers likely are better suited for rail transportation as a means of commuting to work, which would have to be the primary driver of the industry. In cities where I have lived there has been great movement away from urban centers by businesses, manufacturing, distribution, etc., to avoid crime and to establish places of work closer to where residents live and allow for ease of expansion, to say nothing of cheaper land costs. This has located many large employers, beyond retail, into small cities and towns within a 25 to 50 mile range of where their workers live, in all directions.
Art a Layman
Here is my response:
I'm totally with Linda as to rail transportation. Art your remark that you've never experienced rail transportation in Europe is telling. They are so far ahead of us. As an example, I spent three weeks in Holland a few years ago. I could get anywhere in the country by rail and back to Amsterdam the same day. But here's the kicker: I never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a train to Amsterdam from any where in the country. Even in former communist countries like the Czech Republic you can get anywhere by rail and/or bus. Some of the connections are Toonerville Trollies but so what? When you add the TGV in France and other high speed rail, you have a marvelous transportation system in which you don't need a car to get anywhere. Even so there is a mix of cars, rail and air transportation in Europe.
Here in San Diego all city buses are LNG. That's what makes living downtown tolerable. You can stand in back of one of these buses and breathe freely, and they don't pollute. The only problem is the private charter buses are gas based and you don't want to get near any of these. San Diego has increased its trolley system (using European built cars) using existing and former rights of way. Only problem is it's underutilized due to car culture. It's still not to the level it was in the 1890s in terms of network. Also suburban commuter trains are doing well here. The Coaster transports commuters to north county using rail lines shared with Amtrak and BNSF freight trains. Just this year they added an east-west link from Oceanside inland to Escondido called the Sprinter - again using former rights of way.
Car culture in this country is created by advertising. Why else do you think every other add is a car ad on TV? (The rest of the ads are for pharmaceuticals - something that should be outlawed.) Urban cowboys are created by advertising. It's that simple. Remember when smoking was accepted as de rigueur? Smoking culture was created by advertising. Since it has been verboten and negative ads went on TV against smoking we've seen smoking come to a point of being socially unacceptable. The same thing could be done with car culture. It would take government prohibitions against certain forms of advertising as it did with smoking.
The trolley and streetcar network was deliberately sh*tcanned by the auto industry to get people to buy cars and use more gas. In LA they used to have a wonderful network of streetcars and trolleys. This is being brought back. Many people don't know this, but LA has built a wonderful trolley system using mainly old rights of way. You can go to Pasadena on the Gold line, anywhere in downtown (yes, there is a downtown in LA) on the Red line. You can even get from Union Station to LAX on the Blue line. They just need to extend the Red line all the way to Santa Monica. Right now you have to get off and take the Metro Rapide which is a high speed, limited stop bus that can control the traffic lights in its favor. Exclusive bus lanes for buses on freeways is also being done in southern CA.
Fortunately, we don't have to wait for the Federal government to do everything. Cities and municipalities have already been taking action to get cars off the road and reduce the senseless suburban commute. Urban planning such as the CCDC in San Diego has been encouraging high rise infill projects next to trolley lines and downtown high rises as an alternative to living in suburbia.
All that cities need from the Federal government is a little encouragement (and money) to do more along these lines. That's how it normally works anyway. So I disagree with Art's pessimism about rail transportation. It can be done, Art, but you gotta believe. Just like the EV1 which was crushed by GM, rail in this country was deliberately deconstructed by the auto and gas industries especially in LA, the epicenter of car culture.
Trucks use the public highways at little expense for maintenance while railroads have to pay to maintain their own track beds. Government could change this incentive structure. The widening of freeways and creation of additional lanes, bridges and underpasses has gone to insane heights in CA in order to accomodate more and more vehicular traffic, a large portion of which is trucks moving goods that could be moved by rail including all sorts of toxics and nuclear waste. Do you like driving in the next lane alongside that? On some freeways around here it's a permanent non-stop building project. It never ends. It's nuts.
Art, do yourself a favor. Go to Europe and ride the trains! It's very convenient. The scenery's outstanding and the food's not bad either!