U.S. Rail Update



Monopoly Revisited by B & O

800-c1935_1509312a_Deed_RR-BO-FrBkWhen I play the board game Monopoly, one of my staunch objectives is to acquire all the railroads. Although having them doesn’t always guarantee that I’ll be the last man standing, having them satisfies my philosophical leanings and industrial interests. Today I discovered an old map of the real B & O and an old deed from the game. Rail transport of goods and people is experiencing a surge in support now that much of the surface infrastructure is exceeding capacity.

Proponents see the real benefits of rail and lobby their elected representatives to acknowledge those benefits. However, investments must be made with public involvement or else privatization will take the industry back to the 19th century when private individuals ran the show. Public-private partnerships are becoming more common across the U.S. ensuring that a level of public involvement is maintained and monopolies are prevented from happening again.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Between Washington D.C. and Rockville (1890) image detail

Transport Systems Define Global Status

Futuristic CityTransit networks have been considered by many as a measure, among others, by which to determine a city’s reputation or classification as a global city. Of those cities that have earned the prefix ‘global’, their networks are large and multimodal. Specific characteristics of those systems include reliability, vast coverage and high frequency. They offer service to real destinations e.g. employment centers, city centers, entertainment venues, etc. New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seoul are examples of where networks’ designs reflect serious consideration for the need of the population. Service is almost door to door for the places people want to go. In some cases, the transit services themselves are attractions for visitors and transplants.

Life Blood

There’s something about seeing transit vehicles of various modes moving through a city like blood cells running through veins. It sparks a sense of life and progress because like clockwork, they are always on the move. Onlookers and passengers alike experience a feeling of vibrancy and that things are happening. Naturally, the reaction is to be a part of that so the attraction is great and it reaches not only to the hinterlands. People are drawn from around the globe to places that are exuberant with life derived from all of this movement. Being in the heart, or even near to it, drives people, life and ideas to flourish.


aurora_transportation_ysja7For many cities looking to move up the ladder of global ranking, transit should not be left off the table of development projects. The inherent economic benefits alone should be enough to permit its inclusion in a well thought out comprehensive plan. Consistent, scheduled movement propels the dynamics necessary to attract and gain the attention sought. However, looking within to serve the immediate population by offering a world-class transit system will do much to address the external desires. We are now in the 21st century which requires aggressive policies and action to bring to the present that futuristic image of a city with advanced transit services that even includes driver-less trains, cabs and cars.

Volunteers Drive, Yankees Ride

Volunteers Drive, Yankees Ride

Data from the American Community Surveys of the U.S. Census bureau revealed that the states of Tennessee and New York hold the extreme positions on the commuting scale. New York residents take transit the most and Tennessee residents drive the most. Exempting personal choice as an explanation, the lion share of the causes can be distributed among planning, policy and geography. Availability of services and space, density levels in the CBD and policy choices weigh considerably in their contributions to commuters’ decisions on how to transport themselves to and from work each day.

Polarized Landscapes

The south has traditionally been an incubator for a high concentration of factories, producing a veritable mix of goods from air compressors, medicine bottles and faucets to automobile brake components and home appliances. Southern states and municipalities tend to be very friendly to this industry, offering tax breaks and the like for the sake of adding jobs to the local economy. A bonus for the employers is that labor unions typically don’t exist in the region. With these incentives, manufacturers flock to the south. Industrial parks filled with cinder block buildings blot out swaths of land on the outskirts of towns where people don’t live. Workers are expected to shoulder the full burden of getting to work and back. Providing commuting options is not a critical factor, if considered at all, when terms of agreement between the business and government are established. They simply don’t have to because the problems that fit a transit solution are not there. Without a viable alternative though, many workers are simply forced to drive themselves even if they wanted to take transit. However, driving is not such a bad thing when you don’t have to endure the twice a day gauntlet morning and evening peak rush hours and on top of that pay for parking once you arrive at your destination.

In contrast, the northern metropolitan areas have both push and pull factors at work instead of just one or the other. There is a high density of traffic and a higher concentration of offices and buildings. The streets are congested and costs and hassles of owning a car can be overwhelming. Meanwhile, via one mode or another, the commuter has several options when deciding how best to plan a trip. While a large portion of the population uses transit, ridership is still increasing due in part to the fact that Yankees tend to pay higher gas prices while Volunteers pay the lowest in the nation. Yankees are continuously being pushed from many sides to find alternatives. When they’re available, those options pull commuters to the services.


The wide open spaces of the south still embody the American spirit. Driving your own car on long stretches of road is a quintessential symbol of personal freedom in the US. It will take painful conditions similar to the north to abandon such nostalgic notions. It can be expected that these sorts of statistics won’t see any significant variations soon unless congestion, space limitations and related problems force leaders in the south to put emphasis on mass transit as part of a comprehensive solution.

Rebuild versus Relocate

imagesandyUpon all the wrath meted out by Hurricane Sandy and with billions of dollars expected to be the cost of recovery, decision makers insist on building back in the same areas that suffered the biggest blows. They are convinced that they can build “better” and develop “climate resistant” infrastructure. These concepts are futile since they assume that the worst has past. Meanwhile, the full potential of the earth’s destructive potential hasn’t materialized. They also assume that the most recent phenomenon on record will be the measure by which these concepts are applied.

According to a piece from the World Resources Institute, damages have averaged a hefty $34 billion annually over the past three decades. The costs will only increase as weather patterns change and deadly storms increase in frequency and intensity. Eventually, the cash won’t be able to compete with grand scale catastrophe. In his appeal for federal aid, the governor of New York has pointed out that the value of the damage from this storm far outweighs the value of Katrina and therefore must be rebuilt, this time better and stronger.

After Katrina, there was no urgency among the coastal cities and states to evaluate and respond to their vulnerabilities to extreme weather. If Sandy posed a greater threat than Katrina, then what rules out the possibility that another one can come along and be even stronger than Sandy? In that case, the attitude of build bigger and stronger deserves a challenge from modified zoning policies and minimum, environmentally synced resistance. Building specifications may be upgraded to withstand a stronger wind but if the rating is say,100 mph and the next “hurri’easter” exceeds that, then you’re back where you started. It’s time that rezoning and moving out of harm’s way are considered. Living on the coast is a personal choice, facilitated by zoning laws, that allow developers to build in places that they know are subject to major damage as a result of major exposure to coastal storms. Planning and zoning polices, rather than or in addition to, increased spending on weather resistant building material, need to recognize the risks to developed coastal property and adjust accordingly to effectively reduce damage, saving lives and property.

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