Trains For America

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NPR’s All Things Considered considers HSR in a series this week

I just heard All Things Considered’s first piece on HSR. There’s at least one more part that airs tomorrow, but I can’t tell if that’s it or if they’re doing a week-long series. There’s nothing  too revolutionary in there, but it’s a good assessment of the merits of high-speed rail as well as how it’s likely going to take shape in this country. Unfortunately, like every news report on HSR these days, some extremist from a right-wing think tank is interviewed and presented as a credible dissenting voice on the issue. Couldn’t they at least pick HSR opponents with a little more credibility?

What is rather insightful is NPR’s take on incremental HSR upgrades. The piece largely takes the position that a grand “proof-of-concept” project (read: California) is necessary in addition to quicker, less drastic improvements:

“To make rail a major part of the equation is going to take years of proving to the public that this mode is here,” says Joe Schwieterman, professor of public policy and director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

Schwieterman says an incremental approach — such as upgrading existing Amtrak service to 110 mph on routes like Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit — if it’s done well and soon, can help pave the way for other high-speed trains in the future.

“The public sees it works, they see the ridership, they see the trains, they see the advantages,” Schwieterman says. “Then, that second phase of investment can begin.”

He and others say it took five decades to build the interstate highway system into what it is today. Developing a true high-speed rail network will likely take decades, too.


Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

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August 2009