Hail the high-speed rail

By Eli Gottlieb

How would you like to take a spring break to Florida with your own car, without ever getting on an airplane and without having to drive for several days there and back? Instead, you could drink and party on the way there and back. Your trip would use fewer natural resources than an airplane or car, and would compete with the price with flying. It would also take a bit longer, but in exchange you would travel in comfort and never have to go through an airport.

As much as that sounds like a snake-oil advertisement for hovercrafts, teleportation or monorails, President Obama’s plans for high-speed rail could give us all that.

So to learn about the proposal, let’s start with the definition of a high-speed rail according to the Federal Railroad Administration: A train that goes at least 90 miles per hour.

Secondly, President Obama’s proposal covers an interstate rail running at the stated speed in many different corridors.

The proposal extends the existing Northeast Corridor run by Amtrak from Boston to Washington, D.C. through New York City with high-speed rail throughout New England, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Then it adds a Southeast Corridor running from Washington D.C. down through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida ‘- getting us from Boston, Western Massachusetts, New York State or New Jersey down through Washington to Northern Florida solely by high-speed rail.

Florida will have its own high-speed rails connecting the cities of middle and southern Florida, and connected to the Southeast Corridor by existing passenger rail. The Southeast Corridor connects to a Gulf Coast corridor that goes through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. From there the high-speed system can take us to Texas, which will have its own statewide high-speed system.

Or perhaps we wanted to visit our cousins in Chicago.

To do that, we would get on the train wherever we live and go through the Northeast Corridor to the Empire Corridor crossing New York State from east to west or the Keystone Corridor across Pennsylvania. From there we would take existing, slow passenger rail for a relatively short distance to reach the Chicago Hub Network of high-speed trains.

With all this we’ll only really need airplanes to cross the West and reach the Pacific Northwest Corridor in Washington State and Oregon or the California Corridor (the one Californians voted to fund last election) that will link the San Francisco area with the Los Angeles area and the southern border of California.

Actually, existing transcontinental passenger rail will allow us to reach one of those from Chicago or Texas, but at that point planes just make sense.

Admittedly, building this system will take a lot of effort and some systemic reforms. For example, we have to stop the government from killing rail transit by subsidizing the road system and auto companies that can’t build a car people actually want to buy. We also need to stop requiring that Amtrak run at a profit.

Passenger rail runs as a public service everywhere it works and never makes a profit, because to build enough capacity for peak loads (like rush hours or holiday travel) means losing money on unfilled capacity during times of lower demand. So we will have to subsidize rail travel enough to keep it price-competitive with automobile and air travel, or stop subsidizing automobile and air travel with constant bailouts.

On the positive side, we could fund the rail system by taxing the fossil-fuel consumption of cars and planes that keeps our nation addicted to oil and beholden to dictators like ‘President’ Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, ‘Supreme Leader’ Ali Khameini of Iran, and the ‘Royal’ House of Saud.

We could take that money and pour it into building upgraded, more durable rail tracks that will work at higher speeds (dilapidated tracks mean that the high-speed Acela trains of today’s Amtrak can’t run at full speed anywhere north of New York City) and an infrastructure for clean electricity (including nuclear power and research into nuclear fusion) that will power our high-speed rail travel.

So let’s sum up what we now know about President Obama’s high-speed rail proposal. It will get us from school to our spring break vacation (or anywhere else halfway across the country or closer) at a price competitive with air travel, but with greater comfort, greater convenience, the ability to party on the way there and the ability to ship your car with you (on existing long-distance passenger rail).

It will create jobs in building the infrastructure (laborers, managers, engineers), and with proper policies can help us kick our addiction to paying our enemies for natural resources ‘- which will also create research jobs. It will cost us, but we can manage if we shift our socialism from socialism for large corporations and the rich to socialism for everyone.

All in all, this seems one of the few political proposals I can call unadulterated good. Let’s get it done so future generations of college students only have to sober up from spring break as they draw into their home station.

Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]