May 25, 2008
Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country's oil consumption. The fact that we're not talking about it -- especially in the presidential campaign -- shows how confused we are. The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs. Airlines cannot fire any more employees and have already offloaded their pension obligations and outsourced their repairs. At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past two months. If we don't get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.
Whether it be inner-city rapid transit systems or cross-country commuter rail, now is the time to invest in these projects. Some say that the United States is too big geographically, not dense enough population-wise and not cultural similar to places like Japan and the European Union, where high speed commuter rail is wildly successful; but Americans are innovative people - surely we can figure out some way to make it work. If we sit on our hands praying for the survival of the airlines, it might just be too little to late to invest in rail if things don't work out...
Edit: Reuters ran an article today (June 11) asking why the federal government keeps bailing out airlines while the Bush administration threatens to veto Amtrak funding and effectively thwart any potential growth for the railroad. Amtrak now has historically record ridership, which is up 12.3% year over year.