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Let’s Get On Board With High-Speed Rail

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Let’s Get On Board With High-Speed Rail

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Practically every wealthy nation today is making major investments in building high-speed rail networks to transport their people: Japan, Canada, France, Russia, India, England, Morocco, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Italy, China, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and more. But not us, the wealthiest nation, with dozens of cities dotted across a continent with millions of people who need fast, convenient rail connection.

Why are we stuck in traffic on roadways and runways and left with a pokey, out-of-date rail system while nations with a small fraction of our resources — such as Morocco, Poland and Turkey — are cruising on HSR networks? Because our leaders sold us out to corporate hucksters who fed us ideological lies. Their fairy tale was that mass transit is creaky, inherently inefficient, and socialist — and that Americans deserve the independence that comes from a one-person-one-car doctrine.

As early as the 1930s, giant corporate consortiums formed to buy out more than 100 of America’s very effective networks of streetcars and interurban train systems. Not to run them, but to rip out the tracks and pave over the rail right-of-ways to make roads. Likewise, corporate profiteers mounted a new offensive in the 1990s to undermine the higher-speed potential of Amtrak’s Acela trains, hiring such Koch-funded front groups as Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and Reason Foundation to spread hokey “analyses” that brand Amtrak as a slow train to collectivist hell. They also bought trainloads of politicians, who’re still promoting the fabricated studies and talking points of the corporate-cabal to derail HSR proposals.

Despite attempts to kill the notion of a national passenger rail system, trains are only getting more popular. Here are just a few things that HSR would offer our county:

–HSR construction creates a start-up economic boom (from the manufacturing of trains and equipment; the construction of everything from bridges to stations; the installation of high-tech control systems; the generation of renewable energy to power the electric engines; the development of new businesses to serve rail passengers, and more) and would be a sustained source of good, permanent jobs running and maintaining the network.

–HSR is a boon for passengers, providing a competitive alternative to airline rip-offs and traffic congestion. Travellers get access to more cities, safer and more comfortable rides and the ability to work or just relax on the road.

–HSR trains are powered by electricity, thus they substantially reduce consumption of grossly polluting fossil fuels.

–HSR crisscrossing America would be a monumental achievement by and for our people, on a par with the 10-year moon-landing effort launched by President Kennedy or the interstate highway system initiated by President Eisenhower. It would be a history-making project, worthy of a nation with unsurpassed wealth and under-used talent. Creating such a treasure for future generations would re-engage our people’s can-do spirit, and it just might rekindle some sense of national unity.

The U.S. is in the caboose of transportation innovation because special-interest politics continue to thwart our national will, leaving you and me with a rickety, malfunctioning rail system that is a national embarrassment. It’s unforgivable that corporate and political leaders have intentionally failed to maintain, much less improve, the quality of America’s rail infrastructure for future generations. And the cowardice of Congress critters, who take special-interest money to oppose the best policies for the common good, is not only shamefully corrupt; it’s a firing offense.

That’s where we come in. High-speed rail offers such huge benefits for us that we need to push it to the center of our policy demands, especially with a national election cycle already on us. To learn more, contact the National Association of Railroad Passengers (www.narprail.org) and US High Speed Rail Association (www.ushsr.com).

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Rich via Flickr

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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9 Comments

  1. Buford2k11 November 18, 2015

    yep, HSR, Solar and Wind power can be the USofA’s new American Century…if only the gop would listen to reason, and not to their corporate overlords…

    Reply
  2. VulpineMac November 18, 2015

    Personally, I’m all for HSR. They can offer airplane-like speeds and a much more comfortable ride over short- to medium-distance routes and even cross-country runs of 3,000 miles could still be achieved in less than 24 hours–as compared to the four- to five days in an automobile or current Amtrak routes forced to negotiate with Class I freight operations. Even with current limitations, the Acela Express effectively matches airline times between Boston and DC when including terminal times. Having an HSR capable of 200mph+ would see trains proving faster over shorter distances while infinitely more comfortable; the passenger not forced to squeeze their overweight rear end into a 15-inch wide seat and siting shoulder to shoulder with two other individuals.

    The people complaining about HSR are people who have never truly ridden a modern train. Or, as the article states, they have an agenda to keep the status quo with no real regard to individual needs and desires. Yes, I do understand that many people prefer private transportation; but surprisingly, when fuel prices dropped back to $2/gallon, the people who started taking the train to save money did not go back to their cars to commute; the convenience of flat ignoring traffic congestion made the ride to work a pleasure rather than an annoyance.

    Yes. I will admit that developing a completely independent infrastructure for HSR is expensive. Much of that cost is simply due to the fact that the concept was ignored when costs would have been so much lower. HSR now is going to need either to commandeer rights of way or find a way to minimize surface contact while offering a safe route over longer distances. This could mean overhead tracks on monorail-like structures, underground ‘tubes’ permitting almost total isolation from any surface conflict or the takeover of existing or abandoned railway rights of way to be modified for higher-speed operations. Odds are, the best choice will become some combination of the three. For distances of even 1,000 miles, the HSR could become a viable alternative to commercial air for time and cost. It’s worth considering.

    Reply
    1. Joseph Leslie November 18, 2015

      One of the best things about high speed rail is that you will never get a traffic ticket for speeding or running a red light! You can look at the scenery, get a drink, have a meal, walk around and on longer runs, you can sleep on the train! I come from a railroad family and I have met some really important and famous people while travelling by rail! It is definitely much better than being crammed like sardines into the passenger compartment of an airplane!

      1. VulpineMac November 18, 2015

        I so agree, Joseph.

    2. Independent1 November 19, 2015

      Many of the rail lines could be built in the medians (or right of ways) of our interstate highways. Most of the really high speed trains like in China are mag-lev which take a single track. They run on a single rail and hover over the rail making no contact (there’s no friction) because of the magnetization. China has them that top 300 MPH, which means that people getting on a mag-lev in New York, could be in Chicago much quicker (less than 3 hours) than by plane when you consider the time of getting to the airport which is a hassle, going through all the boarding nonsense and then often sitting on the tarmac, and then getting from the airport into downtown Chicago.

      1. VulpineMac November 19, 2015

        Unfortunately, the Interstate median is a no-go as nearly every overpass has a support column in the median. Worse, the construction work to install the rail line would close the inner-most lanes on both sides of the highway for construction access until the system was completed. Plus there would be the constant risk of idiot drivers finding ways to send their cars onto the track, which would be deadly if a train were approaching at the time. And don’t forget the stupid idiots who like to throw bricks, rocks and who knows what else down off of bridges onto traffic. A train at 300mph would experience a catastrophic event.

        As if you haven’t guessed, I don’t trust a whole lot of people and when you’ve got a project as controversial as this, there’s almost guaranteed to be some few who will go out of their way to ensure an expensive project fails spectacularly in order to show what a waste of money it was. The only way to protect such a system from that kind of vandalism is to put it out of their reach… above their heads or deep underground. On the other hand, if it runs on its own right of way the relative isolation only minimally disrupts traffic on streets and highways while additional safeguards can be put in place to protect underpasses.

        I do agree about the speed. Your example demonstrates that rail could replace air for almost any trip up to 1,000 miles and the mag-lev would probably be less expensive to operate over that distance than even the biggest jet carrying 300-400 passengers in fuel cost alone. I for one would be more likely to ride the train if it were available.

        1. Independent1 November 19, 2015

          You make some good points about the construction creating havoc for highway commuting, but you’re not visualizing how mag-levs are set up: they would not operate at levels where cars would get on the tracks or kids could throw bricks at them from the overpasses. They would be elevated and would actually be above the highway overpasses when they crossed them; train travelers would be looking down on the highways. Have you ever been on the monorail at Disney?? And there are probably a lot of places where they could be built near existing train track right-of-ways which are often more off the beaten path.

          And there could even by a New York to L.A. “special”; which could leave in the early morning say around 6 and be in L.A. in time for a little later supper. And not only would they reduce a lot of fossil fuel use because they would be electric, but they would cut down on the fossil fuel use and pollution created by so many airplanes; plane traffic should be greatly reduced, especially for flights under a 1,000 miles as you pointed out.

          1. VulpineMac November 19, 2015

            The monorail at Disney is not a mag-lev. I suggest looking up the Japanese and Chinese mag-lev systems. And don’t forget, it will need to be a double-track system so trains traveling in the opposite direction have their own dedicated track–again as the Japanese/Chinese mag-levs do.

            But even a mag-lev would need to make stops on a cross-country run. The NY/LA run would probably need to stop in Chicago or St. Louis and Denver, assuming they didn’t stop anyplace else. But I do expect the routes would be laid out to hit most of the major cities with a five- to ten-minute stop at each station, so the only advantage to the train on a cross-country run like that is the likely lower cost for the ticket. That NY to LA run would probably hit Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha (or Lincoln) and Denver at least unless it took a slightly more southern route to hit other state capitols or an even more southern route to hit another batch. The way our country is laid out, even our Interstate highway system offers no less than six cross-counntry routes that each hits major cities on its way west (or east if you’re on the west coast already.) And this doesn’t mention the dozens of smaller cities that could benefit from HSR.

            The Chinese mag-lev, by the way, is only about 150 miles long–only half the distance from Boston to DC. We need to consider runs up to 20x longer. Again, very expensive but if not built one way or another, could serve to inhibit efficient travel across the country within the next 50 years. Our highway system is getting saturated. Our skies are filled with airplanes–somewhere over a million flights per day over the US alone. Despite the cost, HSR can ease that congestion and would be able to pay for itself over time and they gain new passengers.

  3. Otto Greif November 18, 2015

    A waste of resources.

    Reply

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