Friday, January 30, 2009

A Harangue: The Abominable State of our National Rail Service

While recently scrutinizing the earmarks of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus package that is being mooted in Congress as you read this, I was flabbergasted to learn the actual amount allotted for mass transit (specifically, rail) development for all the talk about long-term infrastructure investment, which is putatively one of the key aspects of this immense ordeal.

The amount allotted for Amtrak to update and modernize our antiquated U.S. railways is just $850 million, or roughly 1% of the total. That is despite the fact that the national U.S. rail carrier would achieve quite obvious benefits for the general public:

1.) First and foremost, more jobs would be created--and on a truly national scale, both during the renovation and construction phase and afterwards (drivers, train conductors, etc.);
2.) Using the latest technologies, modernizing Amtrak would work toward increasing and promoting green energy, which is also a pillar of President Barack Obama's election platform;
3.) A direct result of an efficient, modern rail network is a decrease in the use of cars to get commuters and travelers to their destinations, hence a decrease in America's long-term demand for oil and, in a further result of such, increased guarantees of America's energy security;
4.) Increased commerce between America and Canada (another direct result of rail efficiency);
5.) Decreased greenhouse gas emissions due to more and more passengers opting to take the train rather than fly;
6.) Not least, an increase in the prices of homes that would be located along the newly built or updated rail lines. This is obvious, for these homes' accessibility, and hence demand, would be immediately increased;
7.) Increased tourism from Canada and nearly all other U.S. cities, thereby creating long-term jobs, more spending, and billions of dollars in continuous revenue.

True, many claim that using railroad en masse is not in the U.S. psyche. Well, sure it isn't if the journey from Boston to Washington on Amtrak today is no faster than one is by car. Or if there is only one route daily connecting such hubs as Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver in Canada. Or if the only decent route we have is the roughly 3-hour journey between Boston and New York City.

This is abominable, and neither is it warranted nor fathomable.

The U.S. deserves a mass transit rail system better than that of a third-world country. This past autumn, I ambivalently looked at China's "D" type express trains that completed the long journey from Shanghai to Beijing in only nine hours. Indeed, I felt a lot of admiration--and a modicum of envy--for the Chinese for rapidly building such a line to carry so many passengers so fast; however, at the same time I felt shame for our national U.S. railways and their dire state. How could I not feel otherwise when China, a country still much, mucher poorer than the U.S., also builds a self-driven maglev train that completes the 28-mile journey from Shanghai's Pudong Airport to the city in just 7 minutes?

I know for a fact tht I'm not alone in calling for such a project that accomplishes these aforementioned myriad goals at once. I suggest we all write to both our federal and state senators for a plea to both increase and expedite the resources used to fund Amtrak before it is too late.

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