Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

A rail system on the Interstates

A big thanks to commenter A. Schrimer for pointing us in the direction of this piece.

J.H. Crawford, author of the book Carfree Cities, has a very interesting and well thought-out proposal on his website… the gutting of the Interstate highway system to support medium-speed trains (~100 MPH). And he’s clearly done his research. The proposal is filled with analysis of our current rail system, and it provides various ways in which design standards could be altered in order for trains to run on current Interstate highway right of ways.

The core of the idea is to remove traffic from the interior (fast) lanes of the Interstates and replace it with well-maintained rails at gauges as wide as 8 feet. He argues that the removal of Interstate lanes would be justified because of the decreased automobile usage due to rising fuel prices. The kicker? The copyright for this piece is from 2001, when gasoline prices weren’t nearly as high as they are now.

Now, this is a political blog, so naturally what came to my mind while reading this rather technically oriented piece was the insane opposition that would spring from all sides. Americans love their big roads, and they have the oil/auto/air industries reinforcing that destructive relationship every day. If this paradigm changed in a rather large way (think: social collapse) then we might have a real winner on our hands. For now, Americans aren’t going to quit driving altogether because of fuel prices, they’ll just complain more vocally about it. Most of our infrastructure leaves them no choice but to keep filling up their cars every week.

Nonetheless, it’s certainly an interesting idea, and it’s actually quite an educational article in terms of the technical limitations of automobiles and railroads.

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Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, , , ,

One Response

  1. Densha Otoko says:

    Maybe, but I see two big problems with that (I had considered it myself on a few occasions):

    1) Interstate Highways constantly take steep grades (unfit for trains) and tend to be run through the middle of nowhere, going around cities instead of into them. While development is possible and even desirable along a rail corridor, it never quite works out on a highway except as sprawl.

    2) America’s thousands of miles of old railways are, although not particularly ridable, mostly still there, in some form or another. They all serve past and current centers of population, run at appropriate grades, and have incredibly comprehensive coverage (far better, even, than highways). Bringing them back to working condition strikes me as a better investment, to say nothing of an easier, cheaper, and more popular one.

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