Archive for the ‘transportation policy’ Category

Be careful what you wish for

I make no bones about it: I hate cars.

I far prefer public transport to cars, but I currently live between two homes (the secret to a happy marriage–live separately).  I have too much crap to take on the train: toss in they are now getting crowded. Loads of other whining.

Likewise, public transportation has the same problem: especially with two dogs. Even when they in bags since you take up way more space than is acceptable. Slightly more acceptable with that much crap on a train, but not when the train is packed out.

I’m happy as heck that driving is being discouraged, but there are now too many issues to car ownership to make it worthwhile (I’ve taken up leasing the past few years for a bunch of reasons).  There’s congestion tax, parking, traffic, etc.

I live in a city which was not designed for automobile traffic and it shows. The average speed over a century ago was about 8 mph.  My new car tells me my average speed and it’s 12 mph in the city! Of course, that’s due to traffic and traffic controls.  Not to mention streets which were meant for horses, not cars.

Seriously, a trip of about 16 miles takes me an hour!

Anyway, I am currently mulling over getting rid of the car (again) for Zipcar since that takes care of most of the issues other than slow speed.

I should be happy that car ownership is being discouraged. Not to mention I’ve done pretty everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint.

But I’m not for the time being.

More high speed rail

I decided to see what others are saying about High Speed Rail in the US.  The Cynical Synapse has this to say:

A recent poll of over 24,000 by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found 62% would ride high speed rail if it was available and competetive in time and price with flying or driving. I’ll bet the number would go up if it meant avoiding full body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs. Amtrak wants to cut time from Detroit to Chicago from 5-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours. I’d call that competive with driving. Round trip on Amtrak costs $62-84 depending on times. Airfare starts at $190, so travel by rail is more cost effective than flying. The problem is 5-1/2 hours takes too long while 3-1/2 hours makes skipping the security lines at the airport worth it.

If Amtrak could knock that figure down another hour with the type of trains the Chinese have, I’m sure even more people would find rail an attractive option.

Blue Cheddar mentions that 650 people attended a recent hearing on passenger rail in Minnesota packing the ballroom where it was held. Most of the attendees were pro-Rail. Blue Cheddar mentions a Badger Herald article about the hearing. The proposal of a high-speed rail system between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities is driven by the current transportation system’s limitations and the increased travel demand. A Minnesota DoT study has found current modes of transportation do not meet the current demands impacting the transportation system’s infrastructure.

Some peole are finding that building more roads for traffic to stagnate is not the solution.

Other bloggers are pointing out that the Chinese are leaving the US behind with Chinese high-speed rail technology. Ilook China mentions that the latest generation of Chinese High Speed trains will crisscross the country at speeds up to 400 kilometers or 248 miles an hour. I’m sure that type of speed would get people to take the train from Detroit to Chicago, or even further! More importantly, high speed rail is what China is using to stimulate its economy. Originally Chinese plans for high-speed rail were set in the future; however, faced with about 15 million job losses due to the 2008 global economic crises caused by US banks and Wall Street greed, China put six-million people back to work in 2009 by moving this project forward.

Why doesn’t the US have high-speed rail?

This is a serious question, although part of the answer may lie in the fact that Rail Travel isn’t a US invention whereas the “inexpensive” automobile was. The problem is that rail travel has offered a far more efficient mode of transportation than air or personal automobiles, yet has not been nutured in the US. So, other countries have high speed rail such as Eurostar and China’s Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway. The latter being the fastest train service in the world with an average speed of 312.5 km/h (194.2 mph) on the 922 km (572.9 mi) route.   While Amtrak’s Acela promises high speed service with a top speed of 240 km/h (150 mph),  the trains average less than half of that.

Another problem with high speed rail in the US is the infrastructure needed for such a line.  Either that or a train that can address the old track beds used by the current rail system.   The current track beds are too curvy for most high speed rail trains, which is a major problem with Acela.  Additionally, high speed rail trains share tracks with freight and slower passenger trains which are another reason that speeds above 241 km/h (150 mph) are not possible on shared track under current US Rail regulations.  So there are many reasons proper high speed rail service in the US would require purpose-built dedicated track on a separate right of way.

British Rail is a dream compared to US trains.

There are tilting mechanisms which allow for the trains to use the older track beds, but that technology doesn’t allow for speeds high enough to make train travel competitive with air at this point.  On the other hand, train service is still limited by the rail regulations to 241 km/h (150 mph). So, there would need to be an investment in the rail infrastructure.  That is something which would require a change in priorities from bailing out financial institutions to working on infrastructure.

Additionally, the “high speed rail” which does exist in the US only operates in the NE Corridor (between Washington, DC and Boston, MA).  There needs to be a expansion of rail service beyond the NE Corridor to the rest of the country, which is another reason higher speed trains are needed in the US to bridge the long distances in the West and even across the continent.

But, given the thought that the fastest trains in the world are found in China and the US is in debt up to its eyeballs to China, perhaps the Chinese may be the US’s salvation in regard to high speed rail.  Quite frankly, even though high speed rail is something the US desperately needs, I doubt there is the will amongst politicians to move for its development.  As history has shown, the US would rather neglect its infrastructure until it is painfully obvious that it needs repair.