U.S. Rail Update

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Birdseye view of Providence, Rhode Island (1895)

This map captured my attention not only because it was old, but because it features a new transportation node. Zoom in on the railroad station. See details for ordering prints at the BIG map blog.

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

US High Speed Rail Lags

Much is being discussed about high speed rail in the United States but that’s about the extent of it while China and others have been in operation for several years. Efforts in those places have shifted from planning and development to operations and network expansion. In China, trains move at the speed of passenger planes transversing farms and disappearing into mountain tunnels, allowing access to jobs and other opportunities for the hinterland populace. This mode and speed of transit would ease the strain on the overly stressed hub and spoke system of the air service in the US. A delayed flight in Boston, no matter the reason, has a ripple effect along the entire east coast. Airports become choked with stranded passengers, quickly evolving into squatters who break out their blankets, kick off their shoes and get cozy. Meanwhile if there was a competitive option, people would be able to make a choice and not be forced to succumb to the uncomfortable situations that are characteristic of traveling by plane. Whether it be to avoid the non-discretionary  policies of the Transportation Security Administration or the cramped seating, the opportunity to travel another mode in relatively the same amount of time would be embraced. One of the most impressive achievements of late is the Beijing-Shanghai high speed line. It reduced the travel time by more than half. In comparison, this train will whisk you from Philadelphia to Atlanta in about five hours. According to the Amtrak website, it currently takes about sixteen hours to cover the same trip.

Benefits

Transporting large numbers of anything in a single trip using less energy is wise policy and efficient practice.  The consumer will prove this statement when given an alternative that makes sense. In the large metropolitan regions across the US where public transit is prevalent and reliable, you will find that more people use it. Traffic congestion, parking and travel time are all factors that go into the decision-making process. Go outside of these areas where transit is not as ubiquitous and you will quickly see a decline in the use of alternative transit. In some cases people walk more than they use transit. In addition to increased mobility which facilitates more commerce, high speed trains can supplant a host of those single occupant vehicles that exceed road capacity and increase maintenance costs. Also, with less cars on the roads, there will be a reduction in the need for gasoline, reducing consumption and carbon emissions.

Challenges

If the high speed rail can offer such benefits to travelers (faster travel time) and ease the strains on the economy (reduction of energy use) and climate (reduction in volume of carbon emissions), why do you have to go to obscure sources to get information? Why isn’t this followed and discussed in the mainstream media as a substantial factor in solving some of the problems facing the nation? In order for high speed projects across the nation to get some steam, there needs to be a broader support base from the public which should be informed through a more aggressive marketing strategy that includes the national media. The California project has faced opposition based in part on cost related issues but the public at large has not been educated enough on the benefits the project has to offer to the region and the nation has a whole.

Safety practices and track systems have also been cited, in the case of China, for opposition to development of the high speed rail. However, even in the absence of high speed rail in the US, accidents happen on the rails with every mode e.g. light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, etc. Accidents should not discourage advancement of a proven solution that has the potential to solve problems on a national scale.

China has fully committed to the high speed rail as a national policy and that commitment has been proven through the rapid pace of network expansions. It has become a source of national pride and aided in the progress of the nation as a whole. The percentage of US citizens exposed to high speed rail projects desperately needs to be increased in order to get adequate support to get tracks laid and trains moving if the US wants to maintain its position as a world leader.

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