14 June 2009

Can America Get Up to Speed?

Quote of the Day:
[High speed rail] would end the expansion of regional airline traffic as in-state travelers increasingly ride the fast trains. And it would surely slow the growth of highway traffic. Other potential benefits are also intriguing: a probable economic windfall for several cities along the route, with rejuvenated neighborhoods and center cities; several hundred thousand jobs in construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance; and the environmental benefits that come from vehicles far more efficient and far less polluting than jets, buses and cars.
-Jon Gertner, highlighting the tremendous benefits that would result if and when the United States builds high-speed rail, in an excellent essay in today's New York Times Magazine.

Brent and I traveled on two separate high-speed rail systems during our trip to Europe in 2005 and, train strike outside Brussels aside, we were quite impressed with the entire experience. The ride was comfortable, the service top notch, and the pricing reasonable. More over...no aggravatingly long airport security lines.

Why the United States has been so slow to plan and build high speed rail is absolutely puzzling. Then again, I guess it shouldn't be. Americans love their Hummers and SUVs, their airplanes and petrol-guzzling trucks. Changing minds on this issue, like many others, will be similar to moving mountains. Never mind the benefits that would come with high-speed rail (tons of jobs, a cleaner environment, a reliable travel alternative to the headache that is flying), the idea of doing anything "European" still irks too many Americans.

So, let's hope the current California project moves forward on schedule and proves successful, as its failure would doom other national high speed rail projects for decades to come.