Monday, April 20, 2009

Amtrak's Moment of Truth

Amtrak should thank President Barack Obama, who recently harangued about the esteemed rail systems of other countries, namely France, Spain, and Japan. He felt that America could--and should--have a rail system that is just as good as Japan's shinkansen (bullet train).
Which is true.

Except that rail travel is not embedded in the American psyche.
Luckily, the stimulus package has allocated $8 billion for rail development. This is still a drop in the bucket, yet it is a huge increase compared to previous years, when barely anything was allocated to Amtrak.

Hopefully, in the future, America's fastest line will be significantly faster than its current one: the 80-mile per hour link between New York and Washington (and Boston, too).

The new lines currently proposed are as follows:

1. A California line that will include trains covering the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two-and-a-half hours (currently six hours);

2. A link between Texas and Oklahoma;

3. New York state will see an Empire Line running between Buffalo and New York City, which may include several other branches;

4. A northern New England line, likely to connect Boston to cities in Maine;

5. A line linking central and southern Florida, which should reduce travel time between cities such as Orlando and Tampa to Fort Lauderdale and Miami;

6. An upgrade of numerous lines heading to and from Chicago, presumably decreasing travel times between the Windy City and St. Louis and the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul).

7. A long line linking Washington D.C. to Florida and the Gulf Coast;

8. Another extension of the Gulf Coast line, this time between Texas and Western Alabama;

9. A Keystone line criss-crossing Pennsylvania, possibly linking to other lines from the Midwest to those of New York;

10. A line between the Pacific Northwest, possibly linking cities such as San Francisco to Seattle and, later, Vancouver.

These are all good ideas on paper. Now comes the hard part: seeing how efficient our federal government is actually implementing these plans.
Unfortunately, this last part is the part I am most concerned--and sceptical--about.

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