America, Will We Ever Have High Speed Rail?
Dana Frank once wrote “Trains tap into some deep American collective memory.” Truer words have not been spoken. Trains were the pride of this nation for many years. The United States of today is built upon the backbone of the railway of the past. When the country was young, when the country was struggling to find its place in the world order, the railway provided the means for young states to have contact with the older ones, for goods to be transported, and for trade to flourish. It is on the backbone of the railway, a railway we built and modernized, upon which the United States entered an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity, what we now call the “Golden Age” of American history.
What happened to the great “iron horse” that allowed us to be the most prosperous and powerful country in the world? As all things, it was replaced by something newer, more modern, and shinier. It was replaced by the advent of automobiles and airplanes. As with all things in life, there is a beginning and an end. But this should not be the end of railway in the US.
At the end of November I was thinking about flying from DC to New Orleans to visit family and attend Wizard Con. I looked up flights for the days I wanted to go (providing myself leeway with dates to get the best price). Even looking six weeks ahead, despite the date flexibility, and airport flexibility, and prayers to the airline gods, I could not find anything cheaper than $350 (including taxes). A four-hour trip was going to cost me around $350. To those with expendable income for flights, I salute you. Me? I am a former teacher who decided to go back to school. I taught in North Carolina, which means my salary was a joke and left little to no room for savings, and being a grad student in this country means I am in more debt than any one person could possibly recover from without coming into money (marrying rich is my plan). Therefore, I decided to see what the good ole American railway could do for me.
What it could do for me is cost $280 (including taxes) and take 26 hours to get to my destination. Yes, you read that right 26 hours. I lost my mind. But wait, you may say, what about traveling by bus; that must be cheaper! And you are correct. For only $89 (plus tax) I could spend 31 hours on a bus. The trip was only planned for at most 4 days. I still have to work, the train and bus options would have meant that I was going to spend spend 80% (I taught Spanish, not math) of my vacation time on my butt praying to meet a rich man.
I’ve done my fair share of traveling and I do not remember airline travel being worth the price paid. As a travel agent for many years, my father is even more versed on travel expenses. He has observed the changes in the industry and diminishing profits. During his tenure he has seen air travel go from being a luxury of the wealthy, to a luxury even the average man could afford, to a mode of travel we all pay exorbitant prices while receiving poor service, poor quality, and crappy food to boot. Not all airlines are like this, I get it, I’ve seen it. But an overwhelming majority is. The airlines have come to mean to the average person what big pharma means to anti-vaxxers.
An exaggeration? Possibly, but it is hard to not believe that the airlines have the government in their pockets to ensure that their high prices for zero quality go by unchecked.
The transportation system in this country is broken. The railways could be our saving grace. A resurgence and re-building of the American railway system would not mean the decline or end of the airlines. It has not been that way in Europe or Japan. Traveling through Europe can be done quickly and economically via the train system. There are high-speed trains that can get you from Paris to Rome in 11 hours (yes, long, but it is roughly the same distance of DC to New Orleans and 15 hours less time). From what I can see, the trains, buses, and airlines competing with one another for customers have not hurt any of them. People use all three to travel around the continent constantly. Why can’t we?
For years people have been lobbying our blindfolded congress to re-build our railway infrastructure and bring bullet trains to the U.S. The benefits are so many it seems ridiculous that a country that prides itself on being modern, advanced and green has not put this on the forefront and prioritized it.
What can the railway do for us in 2016*?
• It will create millions of jobs, green jobs for that matter, in building a new railway infrastructure and repairing what we already have. Not to mention the building and driving of the trains themselves. Don’t you remember being a kid reading about the cool train conductors of yester year and wishing they were still around so you could be one too? Well, now your kids and grandkids could be!
• OIL! We would reduce our oil consumption by BILLIONS of dollars and billions of barrels. With less dependency on oil, less money spent on the military protecting oil routes. With less overseas military to worry about, less chance for war. With less chance for war, more money free to be spent on other national issues. Issues such as our educational system, perchance.· Travel is made safer and more comfortable. Trains do not have the tiny legroom that planes have and the seats can lean back more than the 3 degrees airline seats feel like they do. · Congestion on highways is reduced, helping with our pollution problem.
• Trains are the greener and more economical option! They work despite most weather conditions that ground planes and cars. They are not subject to congestion as they work on a schedule that accounts for no delays, i.e. people and goods getting to their destinations on time!
Having trains in the transportation mix means the return of open markets for transportation in this country. We are a capitalist nation, are we not? Does that not mean everyone has a fair chance in the market and let competition rule the day?
With so many benefits and countries around the world beating the US at its own game, why are we not investing in our railways?
To take a quote from one of my favorite TV shows:
Sheldon Cooper: We're not flying; we're taking the train.
Penny: Oh, cool.
Howard Wolowitz: Yeah, cool. Seven times as long as flying and costs almost twice as much.
It doesn’t have to be so.
*Information taken from the US High Speed Rail Association.