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Public Transportation Mon Jan 11 2010
In case you missed it, freelance writer Jessica Pupovac penned an interesting piece in this month's Mindful Metropolis. In the article, Pupovac looks at how $8 billion in federal stimulus money could finally bring high-speed rail to the Midwest. If successful, Americans might finally break their dependence on the automobile, and the money could help America catch up with other high-speed rail hubs like France and Japan (whose notorious bullet train is pictured above).
According to the article, a high-speed line between Chicago and St. Louis could be running very soon since it could rely on existing Amtrak tracks. Pupovac also notes in her article:
Many in Illinois are hoping Illinois is a lead contender among the more than 34 states that submitted applications totaling more than $57 billion. Illinois is asking for $4 billion, or half of the totally kitty, to build out a second, high-speed track from Chicago to St. Louis. The funds would purchase or upgrade the actual tracks, purchase new trains, install new signaling mechanisms and make a host of related improvements necessary to safely and efficiently run a train capable of traveling up to 110 miles an hour between the two cities.
But not everyone sees a future in high-speed rail. Pupovac also quotes Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Conservative think tank Cato Institute. O'Toole, who wrote the study "Taking Illinoisans for a Ride: The False Promises of High-Speed Rail," argues that the hefty cost of high-speed rail far outweighs any environmental benefit.
"Who will ride these rails?," O'Toole asks in the summary of his report. "The most ardent supporters of high-speed rail predict that when the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) plan is completely built, it will carry Americans 58 miles per person a year. By comparison, the average American travels by automobile more than 15,000 miles per year. The average Illinoisan will take a round trip on high-speed rail once every 8.7 years-and in actual practice, for every Illinois resident who rides high-speed rail once a month, more than 100 Illinoisans will never ride it."
Read the full report here (pdf).
I agree it's going to take a lot more than simply building the rail lines and technology to change people's car habits, but we're destined to rely on the automobile forever if we don't try. And not to mention look pitiful in comparison to train technology in China, South Korea, Japan and almost every country in Europe. It's time to look beyond the car.
Read Pupovac's full article here.