A Call for Trains: For faster trains, for trains we can all actually use By: Katie Chen

Personally, I have never tasted the convenience of efficient and convenient rail travel in my daily routine. I have never lived in a place where I can exit my home, just hop on a train and minutes later be walking distance from my destination. But I do know that this phenomenon exists around the country and the world.

Through my travels to Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Taiwan—even India, I can tell you that this way of traveling from point A to point B, exists. And once I realized it was possible and common, living in cities that do not have these systems (Minneapolis, MN, DeKalb, IL, Chapel Hill, NC, Asheville, NC), it has been frustrating knowing what I’ve been missing. And it has been frustrating knowing that the bills that could create better infrastructures involving cities I live or lived in, have been detested so fiercely by portions of the public.

Take, for instance, the recent debate within many states and their allotted high-speed rail funds. They’ve been given this money by the government and they’re refusing to use the funds. Florida didn’t have use for the $2.4 billion it was given, Wisconsin said “no” to its $810 million, and Ohio says it can do without its allotted $385 million. Now, North Carolina (my state of residence) seems to be on the fence about our $545 million.[i] The politicians are fighting to put the money into a general fund, teeth bared and grit at the mention of high-speed infrastructure, saying it would be better use of the money to just improve the already existing trains.

The argument is almost logical, until you realize that the government has done its homework. According to the Department of Energy, while fuel efficiency in cars and airplanes have improved significantly in the past 10 years, Amtrak’s fuel efficiency has only increased by one-tenth of 1 percent per year.[ii] Meaning, of course, that to continue dumping millions into our out-of-date, moderate-speed train-system would be to support a non-adapting system by current competitive environmental standards.

In the next 10 or 20 years from now, driving or flying would be more fuel efficient than our moderate-speed trains, as train technology wouldn’t have even tried to compete with the innovative technology put into other forms of transportation (hybrid cars, more aero-dynamic planes). [iii] On the current trajectory, the next two decades would see trains that wouldn’t even have the capacity to save any energy at all. In fact, they would require more energy than current standards, to achieve competing high-speeds.

The train of thought (if you don’t mind my pun) of the begrudging politicians could be compared to wanting to upgrade a huge clunky computer from year 2000, and expecting it to compete with the new, sleek and powerful computers created today; that you can carry everywhere, work on it anywhere. 500 trillion gigabytes in the palm of your hand, against a table-top monitor the size of a television on your desk, and a gigantic tower beneath it with a “powerful” 50 megabytes that takes a truck to move. It just doesn’t work.

We’re in a different time, full of amazing possibilities. It is no longer logical to just upgrade the current US train infrastructure, it’s time for new trains. So here we are. We are handed funds, and we are (come on, NC!) letting it slip through our fingers. It is incredibly heart-breaking, especially when we can see countries all over the world making their own investments in innovative and efficient rail technology.

Take China, for instance. Here’s a country that, according to the US Census Bureau, is expected to have a population decrease in the next 40 years, and they just invested $360 billion in its new high-speed rail infrastructure; their newest trains averaging speeds more than 200 miles per hour. [iv] Contrast it with the US, with a population that is expected to grow by another 100 million in the next 40 years,[v] a country that is also dealing with extreme economical and environmental concerns, and a rapidly-aging highway system; does it make sense as to why the US—as a whole—is not taking similar, and even more necessary steps to support and accommodate for this gigantic population increase? These people will want/need to travel to work.

Of course, not only are these other countries taking steps to accommodate for larger portions of their populations, but they are hurdling—leaping and bounding!—forward in the development of even more efficient and even faster rail technology.

Out of the top fastest trains ever invented in the world, Germany, France, Japan, and China take turns “one-upping” each other. Starting as early as 1986 when Germany developed a train that topped at 350 mph during a test run, these countries have increased their speeds model by model until Japan broke the presiding record with a winning 361 mph with their MLX01 in 2003.[vi]

No where on this list does the US stand; in fact, our fastest train tops out at less than half the speed of most of these trains. Amtrak’s Acela Express, which travels between Boston and Washington DC, is the US’s “claim to fame.” It tops out at a whopping 150 mph.[vii] Not incredibly impressive.

Economic woes, public job concerns, and whatever else the dissenters have listed as reasons to refuse high-speed rail funding in the US, don’t seem to be large enough concerns, to stop other countries from investing in these new high-speed rail systems.

I must mention, that in addition to those already listed, India, Brazil, Argentina, and Morocco have also jumped on board in the past year[viii]—countries that are not typically associated with being technologically innovative with its transportation infrastructures.

So again, I ask you, India is doing it, why not us? Brazil is doing it, why not us? Argentina, Morocco. China. Why not US? It just doesn’t make sense not to. Support your local representatives that support high-speed rail.

Spread the word about Trains-Forming America. We hope to be a part of the driving force that backs the new rail system. All aboard!

[i] “Look Who’s Derailing High-Speed Rail,” by Bill Chameides, Huffpost Green, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/look-whos-derailing-high_b_841918.html [ii] The True Cost of High Speed Rail is more than $500 Billion,” by Jay Yarrow, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-true-cost-of-a-high-speed-rail-for-the-us-is-more-than-500-billion-2009-5 [iii] The True Cost of High Speed Rail is more than $500 Billion,” by Jay Yarrow, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-true-cost-of-a-high-speed-rail-for-the-us-is-more-than-500-billion-2009-5 [iv] International Data Base, US Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/rank.php [v]“Bringing High-Speed Rail to America,” by Tobin Marcus, The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/02/08/bringing-high-speed-rail-america [vi] “The Wide Angle: 10 High Speed Trains,” by Jonathan Strickland, Discovery Channel, http://dsc.discovery.com/technology/tech-10/high-speed-trains/10-high-speed-trains.html [vii] “The Wide Angle: 10 High Speed Trains,” by Jonathan Strickland, Discovery Channel, http://dsc.discovery.com/technology/tech-10/high-speed-trains/10-high-speed-trains.html [viii] “Look Who’s Derailing High-Speed Rail,” by Bill Chameides, Huffpost Green, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/look-whos-derailing-high_b_841918.html

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