Archive for July, 2008

High Speed Rail

Anyone who has traveled regularly through LaGuardia or JFK airport in New York City has probably endured long delays and missed connections at times. The simple fact is that these airports are scheduling flights for optimum conditions. Whenever the slightest problem in scheduling occurs, due to weather or other causes, chaos soon follows. There are too many people who are trying to travel through these and other airports and the existing infrastructure can not routinely accommodate the number of aircraft.

This doesn’t have to be this way. Many of the travelers who use these and other airports are not making intercontinental trips; they are flying relatively short distances of 500 miles or less on flights often handled by regional carriers. These regional airlines have been particularly hard hit by the rise in oil prices and many of them teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. The future of the regional, and even the major airlines, is not certain, but there is an alternative mode of transportation that could relieve the stress on these airports and also provide passengers with reliable, high speed travel to their destinations. That mode is high-speed, electrically-powered, railcars.

There is nothing new about high speed rail. The French TGV train holds the world speed record of over 350 miles per hour. High speed trains have been the norm in Japan for many years. The fastest train in America is Amtrak’s Acela, which goes as fast as 140 miles per hour but often travels at only 60 mph because of poor track conditions. Private industry and big business essentially left passenger rail service in the U.S. many years ago, and the U.S. government is now the sole stockholder in Amtrak. However, the government’s stewardship of our passenger railroads has shown a serious lack of vision, the results of which can be clearly seen in New York City’s and other major hubs’ air traffic congestion and gridlock.

It is time for the U.S. to have a new vision, a vision for rail travel in the 21st Century that would be a real alternative to air travel. We need to construct a new nationwide rail system, analogous to the Interstate Highway System, dedicated to high speed rail, for both passenger and freight service. A nationwide, electrically powered, high speed rail system would provide a viable alternative to air travel and would not be subject to the drastic price fluctuations of oil. In addition, the creation of high speed rail beds, tracks, and trains would create jobs for many thousands of Americans in the construction industry – the same people who have been idled by the collapse of the housing market. Ulimately, a government regulated, nationwide, high speed rail system would benefit travelers, shippers, and American workers. It could generate the need for a whole new industry of made-in-America products to support the system and thus create even more American jobs.

The time has come to create a nationwide high speed, electrically-powered, rail travel system in the U.S. that would many benefits to all Americans. It’s worth thinking about.

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