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LISTEN: Waiting on a Train Author James McCommons on Sierra Club Radio

The state of passenger rail in the U.S. is pathetic, and not only because we have no high speed trains to speak of (sorry, Acela, your track conditions don’t let you go more than half your top speed, so you don’t count). But there may be a light at the end of the rail corridor.

Eight billion dollars in stimulus funds were made available for the purpose of developing high-speed trains. But that’s only a small part of the solution. States that would benefit from a good intrastate rail line—states like California and Texas—need to take the initiative. The federal goverment must subsidize rail and recognize it as a public good that’s just as valuable, if not moreso, than the highway system. Partnerships with freight rail companies should be established.

Author James McCommons, who spent a year riding the rails, was recently interviewed on Sierra Club Radio. He spoke to many people during his travels and is pretty much an expert on the subject of passenger rail.

Well I think, you know, the rail systems are not going to replace highway systems, but they can complement them, and again, it’s the department of transportation in these states that need to be looking at rail as a solution to some of their transportation problems. So instead of adding a lane to an interstate, you know, maybe it’s putting in a commuter train and investing with the freight railroads to expand the infrastructure…

What’s interesting is when $8 billion became available in the stimulus package from the Obama administration, there were a lot of states that were coming up with rail plans, and I think that shows that there is an interest out there. There just simply hasn’t been the kind of partnership between the feds and the states as there have been with highways. If you wanted to build a highway as a state you had to come in with ten, fifteen, twenty percent, and the feds would come up with the other eighty percent. Well, if that’s the kind of match we’re talking about, then the state’s naturally going to be more interested in building a highway than rail.

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