09 February 2013


For decades, the U.S. has been neglecting its infrastructure.  Thousands of bridges and many miles of highway need rebuilding, air traffic is chaotic with superfluous security check-ins and the airlines' disastrous hub-and-spoke system, water and sewer facilities are antiquated, the power grid needs greater reliance on green energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal), telecommunications are vulnerable to attack by domestic and international hackers, and mass transit is woefully inadequate to the needs of the populace.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the nation's rail system.  Amtrak has been neglected and underfunded to the point of embarrassment ~ engines and rolling stock are old, and service has been steadily curtailed, both in scheduling and in the elimination of entire routes.

Albert Twu would like to change all that.  Last Sunday he published a map showing proposed high-speed rail lines linking the major cities in the continental U.S.  (If you click on the above image, you can view his map in detail.)  Twu wrote that his map is "a composite of several proposed maps from 2009, when government agencies and advocacy groups were talking big about rebuilding America's train system."

Such a rebuild is long past due.  Compared to high-speed rail development in Europe and Japan, the U.S. is in the Dark Ages.  In a nation as large as ours, efficient transportation is critical, yet efficiency is sorely lacking.  Our cities experience increasing traffic gridlock, and travel by air is slower and more cumbersome than it was fifty years ago.  These bottlenecks would be relieved by a nationwide system of affordable high-speed rail lines.  Imagine rush hour traffic eased as more drivers opted for the comfort and safety of a train.  Imagine the long waits at airport terminals diminished ~ who knows, the competition from high-speed rail might prod the airlines to redesign passenger cabins to allow more space per individual seat, so that air travelers didn't feel like sardines.

But we must not make the mistake of a token effort (a token high-speed line along the Washington DC-New York City-Boston corridor, for instance).  Referencing the map, we need to address not only the colored routes, but also the faint gray routes (e.g. Portland to Salt Lake City, or Seattle to Minneapolis), in order to fully serve all regions of the country.

How to finance such a venture?  For starters, the expense of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere should have been diverted to domestic use.  Further, I'm certain that any number of venture capitalists would see the potential for a generous return on their investment.  And the number of jobs created for construction and maintenance would be a significant boost to our flagging economy.  As an added benefit, carbon dioxide emissions by high-speed rail are a small fraction of those generated by car or airplane travel (see image below).

I love to travel by rail.  If I lived near an Amtrak line, I could travel to see friends and family, enjoy the scenery, and arrive refreshed.  If I lived near a high-speed rail line, so much the better.

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