Monday, December 28, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Little noticed in the hoopla over the failed terrorism attempt of Christmas Day, with the concurrent fingerpointing (these rules were instituted under the Bush administration, something jackasses like Rep. Peter King (R-Frontrunning Poser) seem to forget) was an item that made me think a little:
WUHAN, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway with the world's fastest train journey at a 350-km-per-hour designed speed, started operation Saturday.

    Two passenger trains rolled out the Wuhan Railway Station and Guangzhou North Railway Station at about 9 a.m. and reached the terminals within three hours, compared with the previous 10 and a half hours.

    The service between Wuhan, a metropolis in central China, and Guangzhou City, a business hub in the southern Guangdong Province, was put into trial operation on Dec. 9, reaching a maximum speed of 394.2 km (ed. note: roughly 250 miles) per hour.

Not quite as fast as a jet airplane, but no one drove a train into the 90th floor of the World Trade Center, either. And given the delays in airline terminals sure to arise from this incident, bullet trains might begin to make more sense.
Several reasons drive train travel in Europe and Asia that seem not to affect Americans: higher fuel prices due to government taxes, shorter distances between hub cities, less developed road systems (really, the Autobahn and perhaps Englands motorways are about the closest any nation comes to the US interstate highway system) creating slower speeds and longer travel times, among other reasons.
Indeed, China may be the only nation who suffers from both the need to have citizens in two places at once as well as the staggering large distances between those places.
Now, Barack Obama did propose investing in high speed rail systems, particularly across the heartland of the United States. So far, the only firm proposal is for a rail link between Disneyland and Las Vegas (courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid). I'm not entirely sure what the advantage is for having this. Do you drop your kids off with Goofy in the morning and pick them up at night after you've blown the mortgage payment?
But I digress. We have an opportunity now to invest in something that a) makes sense to do, given the economic catastrophe that higher fuel prices will create shortly, b) can be shovel ready within months, c) would help wean us off foreign energy sources, d) could employ zero-emission power plants strung along the rail lines, e) would reinforce homeland security, both from a macroeconomic point of view as well as a micro-security viewpoint, and f) would give us a goal that most Americans can appreciate and wrap their minds around.
After all, rail travel has been around 150 years and there's a whole litany of romantic notions with regards to it. Imagine going from Chicago to Denver. It's a 17 hour drive. It's a three hour plane flight, plus two hours at security. At 660-odd miles and 250 mph on a train, it's 2 and one-half hours. And you're in downtown at both ends.
Makes sense, right?