Thursday, February 10, 2011

High Speed Rail, No Thank You

News has broken that President Obama wants to ask Congress for 53 billion dollars for high-speed rail lines across the US. This money would be spent over the course of the next 5 years on projects across the country to get a start on the infrastructure of a high-speed rail system. Not only is this a huge waste of money, but the US is not built for a system like this the way China and Europe are.

High-speed rail in China and Europe are highly successful for a reason. The reason it is successful in those places and would be a complete waste of money here, is the same reason why public transportation systems such as subways, buses, etc. are highly successful there and are not here in the US. That reason is population density. The population of China is 4 times that the amount of the US with the same amount of land. China also has 160 cities with a population of over 1 million people, the US has a total of 9. Europe has 200 million more people then the US in a land area half the size. High-speed rail works in those regions because people are closely packed in together. Not only that, and especially in Europe, their public transportation systems are so developed that having high-speed rail only enhances their transportation infrastructure.

The problem in the US is that we are far to spread out for a public transportation to work effectively, and too spread out for a high-speed rail system. It is precisely why Americans drive cars more than any other country in the world. Not because we have more money, but the places we need to go are too far from public transportation hubs. Without major densely populated areas to feed people into, basic public transportation is rendered fairly useless.

Building A high-speed rail system here would be a large drain on the US taxpayers for all the initial costs, but also for the long term maintenance costs as well. All while not improving our transportation needs. Now I know many critics of projects like this that are said to cost too much just have reasons why they won't work or why they are no good without offering any alternative solutions. I am not one of those people. I love to offer what would be a more effective use of our tax dollars that would actually improve our transportation and infrastructure issues.

The thing that has separated America from the rest of the world regarding transportation is the amount of space we have. We are vastly more spread out in our country then anywhere else. We enjoy the freedoms of being able to travel everywhere within our country and over 50 years ago we came up with a solution that was uniquely American, the interstate highway system. It has allowed our country to expand in ways we could not even dream of before it was built. We should not lose hope in that system.

We need to invest the money in smarter roads that flow traffic in and out of our cities more fluidly, we need to invest in smart car technology that allows cars to travel at high rates of speed and communicate with each other, and we need to invest in more technology in regular rail to move more cargo by train. By investing in our freight lines we can pull trucks off the roads and limit congestion created by them. The time has come to get as many of the cargo trucks off our roads as possible. By investing in technology that improves the flow of traffic on our interstate system we will improve efficiency of our commerce, decrease the carbon footprint of our vast system, and increase productivity of our workers because they won't be sitting in traffic for hours wasted every year.

All of these things can be accomplished with the money we would put to high-speed rail, frankly a project that won't be guaranteed to be used effectively enough throughout the country to benefit most Americans. Do I think high-speed rail could work one day in America? Of course, when we have far more densely populated cities. In fact, on a limited basis I think the one place we could use a high-speed rail line is from Boston to Washington DC. That is the one corridor of our country where there are 5 or 6 densely populated cities within range of each other where it would be beneficial to have a line. Have a major hub in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and finally in DC,  that makes sense.  The problem is that we don't have many population centers close to enough together like that for a the system to be effective.

When proposing policy for our country it needs to make sense for us as Americans. We can't assume because something works in other parts of the world that it will automatically work here. We need to do what is best for us as a nation. Investing in better technology for our roads, our cars, and our heavy rail is the best solution for us as Americans. It may not work for China, but we are not them and they are not us. Should we want high-speed rail? I say no thank you.

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