12/18/2006

Sacre bleu! Why can't American's go this fast too?


France hopes to set world speed record of 342mph with new TGV-- The Independent

Wikipedia History of the US Railroad

(Image on left shows proposed routes for future high speed trains in US, but proposals are all we have so far)

One of the most disappointing realities of daily life in urban America is the absolutely embarrassing state of public transportation compared to our European and Asian counterparts, which have both embraced the advances in railway technology, canvassing their countrysides with bullet trains that link their citizens in ways American Amtrak riders could never comprehend. Considering the importance of the railroad to the early prosperity of our infant nation in the 19th century, it is amazing to me that our adoption of advanced rail networks hasn't been embraced by politicians across the country looking for ways to unlock unrealized value from from their local industries, offer their constituents an efficient and cost effective alternative to air travel and keep pace with the hyper-modernization currently underway everywhere else in the developed world. Instead, Washington has been duped into rubber stamping the annual subsidies for Amtrak, which have done nothing more than provide disincentive to all probable sources of innovation in the industry. Living in Chicago, which is essentially the largest railroad crossing in the world, with massive rail yards in the outlying regions of the city through which more commerce travels by train than any other place in the world annually, it is impossible to ignore the positive role the railroad still plays in supplying the country with goods which would otherwise clutter the highways on the back of semi-trucks. But until we have an actionable plan for providing cheap, efficient and fast transportation from coast-to-coast, our interstate railroad system will only fall further from its pinnacle as the most advanced in the world just a few decades ago.

For all the talk of American dependence on oil and solving the problems of environmental degradation caused by rapid expansion of interstate highways filled with gas-guzzling SUV's, I have never once heard anyone propose the modernization and deregulation of the railways as an incremental step in the long-term process of finding solutions to these complex and costly matters. Instead, we have allowed the French and the Germans rise to the forefront of the industry, leaving us in the dust and making millions of dollars selling their state-of-the-art bullet trains to China, South Korea and other countries that are building 21st transportation networks to meet the demands of their 21st century workforce. I concede that their is only so much that can be expected of the government when it comes to doing what is sensible and consumer friendly, but I can't imagine anything happening unless more American's voice their opinions on the current state of the nation's railroads. Could anyone reasonably imagine having only one airline on which to fly, which was subsidized by the government and cost an arm and a leg? Or maybe just one car manufacturer which only sold two door sedans in beige? Of course you can't, because you know that it is your right as a consumer in America to have choices when it comes to purchasing your method of transportation. So what needs to be done to light a fire under the fannies of American travelers and commuters who are living in silent frustration? If only they new how good the French have it...
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