Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Number 6) Supertrains!

Living in a country where the rail infrastructure is (far from perfect but) widely used and considered a necessary, normal part of daily life in the country, I'm always astonished by how far most Americans are from thinking this way. A few years ago I needed to travel from Spingfield, Massachusetts to Manhattan and I booked an Amtrack ticket to do so. This was a 4 hour journey, which would land me three blocks from where I needed to be. However, the family that I was visiting in the Springfield area were confused and disapproving - "why didn't you fly?" they kept asking me.

Well, leaving aside the fact that the train cost about the same, took about the same amount of time (when you factor in the need to travel out to the airport and into the city at each end) and that the train has more comfortable seats, and allows you to stretch your legs there is also the fact that rail travel is FAR less polluting than airplane travel. The CO2 released in air travel has 10 times the environmental impact as CO2 at ground level. And car travel, in addition to being more polluting than rail, is also significantly less safe - automobile fatalities are the 6th most common cause of deat in developed countries.

Still, though, Americans are far more likely to fly or drive on long journeys. Rightly or wrongly, rail travel is seen as creaky, slow, and inhibiting.

But supertrains - high speed trains serving major metropolitan areas, such as are common on continental Europe and Japan - are none of these things. Supertrains are clean, safe, cheap and fast. They are a great way to travel, and they can help to reinvigorate urban areas drawign business and consumers back into town centers.

So why is America so far behind the curve on this? We don't have a single high speed rail line in the country, despite being (allegedly) the wealthiest country on earth and having a number of major metropolitican areas that would be ideal to connect in this way.

For instance, the North East corridor would make it easy to create a high speed line connecting Boston, New York, Washington DC and Baltimore.

Or, how about connecting St Louis Missouri and Chicago? Of Seattle and Portland? Or LA and San Francisco? Harry Reid got attacked for a fictional LA to Las Vegas rail line, but creating one of these would actually be a really good idea.

I can't see any reason why America should always be the last developed country to adopt innovative and useful large-scale projects like this. Not only will supertrains create much needed jobs here and now, they will create the kind of robust transport infrastructure that makes ongoing growth easier - similar to how Eisenhower ensured an era of growth by investing in the Interstate Highway program. Plus: SUPERTRAINS! (Sorry, but I' just plain adore them.)

Money well spent.

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