21 December 2006

High Speed Rail in America

One thing that has always fascinated me since I was a kid was trains. I guess that is why I have always been open to the idea of high speed rails in America. I never really have understood the argument that they aren't good here. I've been doing a bit of reading on the subject and what I have found makes me wonder even more why we do not have high speed rail.

The main reason the US does not have high speed rail is because the Federal government will not subsidize it. The last number I checked, Amtrak recieves $521 Million dollars a year from the government while the airlines receive about $14 BILLION and the highway system an obscene $32.3 BILLION. The government does not seem too eager to pony up the money for a rail system in the US. In fact, the budget for rail seems to decrease every year.

High speed rail works best in medium distance situations where flying is just too impractical or expensive. Look at the Northeast section of the US; it has an Amtrak system that now goes from Washington D.C., through New York, to Boston. The train, while not the fastest in the world, peaks at 150 mph along the trip. There are also lines through Pennsylvania that are very effective as well. In fact, there are plenty of places where high speed rail could help alleviate congested airports and roadways.

Take Chicago for example. O'Hare International Airport is one of the most congested airports in the US. If there was an effective rail system that connected it to Milwaukee (then Minneapolis), St. Louis (then Kansas City), Indianapolis (then Louisville and Cincinatti), Cleveland and Detriot, that could help solve some of the congestion in that area. If these rails continue on to other destinations such as Kansas City from St. Louis and then from Kansas City to Oklahoma City, you can slowly make a effective rail network that would be effective for medium distance travel.

Most high speed rail stations in other countries allow you to buy your ticket and board the train in a matter of minutes versus the wait time of up to hours for airlines. Rail is also a more economical travel medium as you can transport more people with less energy through rail than you can through the air.

While I would figure businesses and business travelers would be the ones begging for a high speed rail network, this is not the case. Businesses would have the most to gain from a high speed network of trains. Their employees would be more productive on the trip, because most high speed lines in Europe provide Wi-fi access, comfortable meeting rooms, access to power and good/decent food. While not being cramped in a tiny "business" class section of an aircraft where little can be done as far as productivity goes. It seems to me that that businesses need to be calling up their Congressmen/women and letting them know how much they really want and need a high speed rail system in their state.

High speed rail is not without its disadvantages. It is not good for long distance travel when time is a priority. Airlines can deliver when it comes to speed; therefore, trains will not ever truely take over aircraft. High speed rail is also extremely expensive depending on the terrain. In the UK it can reach up to $33 Million per mile of track on the really hilly sections.

Overall, despite the costs, I believe that America needs and deserves a high speed rail system to help reduce pollution, our dependency on oil, and airline/roadway congestion. If the Federal government would step up and help defer some of the costs of starting high speed rail in America, we could really begin to advance and catch up with the rest of the world who already has the right idea.