Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

As airlines buckle, leading Democrats look to rail

2008 hasn’t been a good year for airlines. And it’s beginning to set in with the public and the media that these artificially cheap local flights are soon going to be a thing of the past. Luckily, more and more policymakers are beginning to see the steps America has to take if it doesn’t want to be left behind, and initiatives such as the new Amtrak authorization bill are a good start.

In a column for Newsday, Democratic strategists Bruce Reed and Paul Weinstein Jr. have taken this thinking to its logical conclusion, advocating high speed rail as an efficient and environmentally sustainable alternative to continued overuse of air travel.

Today, however, with the cost of energy skyrocketing, and our air-travel system reaching its limits, demand for rail is outpacing supply.

That’s why the next president and the new Congress should commit to building five new high-speed rail corridors in the next 10 years. The corridors would be selected based on three key criteria: geography (the flatter the terrain, the faster the train); a high probability of use (densely populated corridors with significant levels of highway and airborne traffic); and a commitment by the private sector, states and localities to share in the cost of construction. Wherever possible, the high-speed rail corridors should connect to major air hubs.

As for energy savings, even the most conservative studies give trains an advantage of 4 to 1 over cars and airplanes. According to studies done in Japan, high-speed trains produce one-tenth the carbon-dioxide emissions of airplanes

What’s significant about this is that Reed is president of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group in the Democratic Party most closely associated with former President Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats.” This just goes to show that in this age of high oil prices and concern about carbon emissions, American bullet trains aren’t just for the hardcore rail nuts anymore, especially considering the bi-partisan support behind the Amtrak funding bill.

However, their proposals for funding these projects seems conservative, including “carbon-offset purchases; a 4.3-cent diesel gas tax on the railroad industry that would raise about $200 million a year; ticket surcharges; and/or matching contributions from states served by the new rail lines.” I hate to say it, but if the feds want a good rail network, they’re going to have to pay for it. States should certainly contribute as well, but using carbon offsets or a piddly and burdensome rail diesel tax is just wishful thinking. Funding aside though, getting these moderate strategists behind HSR can’t possibly be a bad thing.

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Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail, , , ,

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