Tuesday, March 9, 2010
We need to actually invest in trains in this country!
This NY Times article outlines some problems with the current money being spent on rail in this country and the lack of it being spent on high speed regional lines. With the idea that "Its the Economy Stupid" we should be looking at the fact that:
A. Rail lines use less energy per ton of cargo moved, be it freight or people, an important idea in a country pretending to want to become energy independent from the Middle East and Venezuela.
B. WAY too much regulation is currently thrown onto the rail industry in this country, hampering entrepreneurship by those who want to run new track so high speed lines (like Amtrak's Acela in Boston) aren't sharing track with slow moving freight lines. This regulation also hampers re-investment by the companies currently running freight; as who wants to spend money to fix something up that you have no control over?
Also, there are way too many officials; local, state and federal, who are earning their pay by being on Railroad Commissions and oversight agencies and the such and they will lobby to keep their easy jobs by preventing the lifting of these regulations.
C. When gasoline and diesel prices skyrocket over the next century, their will be no more 44 cents a gallon road tax gathered at the pump pouring billions of dollars into Federal and State DOT road maintenance activities. Non-toll roads will fall apart and the wonderful system of 75 MPH highways we enjoy now will crumble into a system that will break your axle at 50 MPH. The major ingredient in asphalt by the way is oil. Rail road tracks are made form steel which we CAN make here in America. The only way to provide much of the non-coastal areas of the country with goods and freight in the coming decades when oil and natural gas become too valuable to burn (any idea what they make crop fertilizers and plastic from folks?) will be via rail.
D. Rail is currently cost-effective in comparison to highway trucking, but can be made tremendously more so. Especially if we invest in electrified rail systems as seen in Europe and Asia. Whether it be overhead lines or an energized third rail, electricity is the answer to even greater gains in productivity and energy independence in our transportation sector. Most train engines are already electric in this country, they just run massive diesel engines to power on-board generators that power those motors with electricity. Remove the diesel engines and supply the electric from a grid (of nuclear power plants, more on that later) and you see even greater efficiencies in cost per ton per mile.
Investing now allows us the time to re-vamp our rail system to allow for separate freight and passenger rail lines, electrification of those rail lines to help our energy independence and will employ thousands of people laying track and building equipment and new trains needed to run the railroads right when the country needs employment opportunities. Throw in a massive push for construction of new nuclear power plants (I propose one per state be built over the next ten years, and even that isn't enough to make us energy independent) and investment in a refurbished power grid that can support America's needs and you have the makings of an economic recovery. Listen up, President Obama, trains are our future.