Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Obama: Bla bla, energy, cars, bla bla (not rail)

So we keep hearing bad news about the stimulus and its lack of rail provisions. And worse, the Overhead Wire has a good piece about why the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership seem to be squelching attempts to make any progress in the matter. Apparently it has to do with current Obama adviser, former energy secretary, and infrastructure-hater Larry Summers.

Amidst all this, Obama released a new statement on energy today. It actually might come across as nuanced and well-thought out, except for the glaring lack of anything rail or even transit related.

Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action.  Rigid ideology has overruled sound science.  Special interests have overshadowed common sense.  Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results.  Our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike in gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.

I haven’t seen any definitive proof here that special interests still aren’t overshadowing common sense, but okay. Oh, there’s more.

Finally, we will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead.  To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition.  I’ve made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world.  That’s how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists.  And that’s how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.

Not sure we need to be patronizing China about climate change when we’re going to be building loads of new highways while they invest billions in high-speed rail (via the NY Times).

I certainly haven’t lost hope in the idea that Obama will be bringing “change” to transportation in this country, but we haven’t seen much delivered yet. Even if the stimulus is all highways and tax cuts, we can still look forward (and keep on working) towards change in the “highway bill” coming up this year.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Politics, , , ,

The Prius of trains

There’s lots of talk in this year’s presidential campaign about hybrid cars. The thought is that we can make this inefficient mode of transport less wasteful through better use of technology. Well why not apply the same principle to rail travel? Why not make the already efficient option even more so? In this vein, rolling stock manufacturer Bombardier has debuted an “eco-train” that aims to achieve “20 to 30 percent less energy consumption.”

The retrofitted Bombardier Regina-model train recently hit speeds of 183 miles per hour, and did so with nature-friendly “ECO4” features developed by the company. A “Permanent Magnet Motor” cut operating costs and environmental impact, while a driver-assistance system provided data on speed and traction to save up to 15 percent of traction energy.

“This project has demonstrated why we believe that the climate is indeed right for trains,” said Klas Wahlberg, chief country representative of Bombardier Transportation Sweden. “This joint effort has shown that our ‘Green Train’ is not only the right train for operation in the Nordic region, but that it also presents a new generation of energy-efficient, sustainable high speed trains. Our ECO4 technologies can be customized to enhance the performance of any fleet, as we have shown today.

Whalberg suggests that this technology could be applied to any train fleet… That’s an interesting thought considering that Amtrak is desperately in need of new equipment, and that some environmentalists haven’t realized the eco-friendly potential of rail travel. No word on the cost though.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Filed under: Amtrak, International High Speed Rail, , , , ,

Rail and the Pickens Plan… why the environment needs more trains

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my friend, while CNN was quietly playing on the TV in the background. All of a sudden the conversation stops and we both find ourselves staring at the current commercial, which was tersely presenting the rather gloomy facts behind US oil importation. This wasn’t some typical oil company “we’re trying to solve this transportation crisis that’s milking you dry and making us rich… really.” It was an ad paid for by a former oil executive looking to redeem himself and address America’s fuel crisis: T. Boone Pickens. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. I watched his longer video online:

It’s certainly good that someone is taking up the crusade to encourage renewable energy development and domestic alternatives to oil such as natural gas, but I was disappointed that his plan failed to discuss another big step is reducing America’s dependence on foreign energy: stop using so much of it.

Switching to cleaner energy will be beneficial for both [new] automobiles and [new] trains, but renewable energy isn’t the “magic bullet” politicians are always looking for when it comes to solving problems. What’s also important is to ensure that our avaricious consumption doesn’t negate this new production of clean energy. Investing in passenger rail can be a crucial element towards achieving this goal.

Even if everyone in America switched to a zero-emissions car (that’s a bit misleading considering that they still use electricity.. still mostly generated by fossil fuels), we still have to deal with the fact that most people in this country continue to be glued to their automobiles. Environmental problems associated with driving such as urban sprawl and habitat destruction won’t be affected at all.

The air/auto/oil industries have gotten us into a huge pickle, and we have to recognize that we can’t depend on them to fix it. Vehicles such as the Chevy Volt can be part of the solution, but they’re not the solution. We need to be promoting energy efficient alternatives to driving such as walking, biking, and yes, trains.

A look at the relevant blogs should tell you that environmentalists and rail advocates on the grassroots level are quickly joining forces, but it just seems like the higher-ups haven’t quite caught on yet.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Travel Woes, , , , , ,

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