Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Rail Rennaissance: We May Be About to Take a Huge Step Toward Reviving Train Travel

The following piece written by James McCommons, author of Waiting On A Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service; A Year Spent Riding Across America, appeared originally on Alternet.org.

When I was researching my book on the American rail system, I interviewed William Withuhn, Curator of the history of technology and transportation at the Smithsonian Institution. He said: “America doesn’t get rail transportation. The politicians don’t understand trains because most have never ridden one. The press is all caught up in Amtrak not making a profit as if that’s somehow remarkable. Roads and airports don’t make money either. In the 1960s, we had same inane arguments. Critics saying: rail is not like other transportation systems, America is too big and not like other countries. People won’t ride trains here…In the meantime, other countries–lots of them now–have moved ahead and built these sleek, efficient and awesome machines. They get rail, but we don’t.”

Now, maybe two years after my conversation with Withuhn at the Smithsonian, America may be coming around.

On Tuesday, Vice President “Amtrak Joe” Biden and Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, stood in 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and proposed making passenger rail part of the next transportation bill, which would mean carving out about $8 billion annually or $57 billion–over the lifetime of the bill–for intercity passenger rail service. This has never been done before.

The money would go to states that put up 20 percent matching funds (just as they do now for highway projects) to lay more track, build signaling systems, bridges and tunnels, buy locomotives and passenger cars, and partner with Amtrak to increase service. The money would increase the capacity of the national rail infrastructure–which is privately owned by freight railroads–to accommodate both more passenger and freight trains.

If this proposal comes to pass–it’s part of the Obama Administration’s push for infrastructure and more American jobs–it would be a game changer for passenger rail. No doubt when this all is introduced in the President’s budget next week, there will be cries from the rail doubters in Congress –mostly Republicans–that this is nothing more than a boondoggle, a wasted effort to prop up Amtrak, or just another example of excessive government spending. Even some rail supporters have trouble with it, such as John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica believes any federal dollars ought to be channeled first into the Northeast Corridor to build a 200 mph train there.

But that would be a mistake. There are many areas in the country besides the Northeast–especially in California, the Midwest Hub around Chicago, and along the East Coast south to Florida–that would benefit from investment and faster train service. America doesn’t need a bullet train as much as it simply needs more trains. If anything, Biden clearly set some realistic goals for train speeds–which is to say, yes, some regions may build a a 200-mile an hour train, while other states may do well with 90 or 100 mph service.

The $8 billion dollar figure didn’t come out of nowhere. The number first cropped up in the latter part of the Bush Administration when Congress created the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission to study where the country should concentrate its transportation dollars. At first, the commission (headed by Mary Peters, the DOT secretary) wasn’t going to study rail, assuming roads and air could meet America’s transportation needs. But some members pushed for a rail study, and in the end, the commission recommended spending $225 billion annually on infrastructure, of which $8 billion would go to rail. It also recommended a gradual increase in the gas tax up to 50 cents per gallon. Peters and a couple other commissioners voted against the final report. And though President Obama wants more train service and spending on infrastructure, he hasn’t expressed interest in raising the gas tax and likely won’t during the run-up to the next election.

Continue reading this article at Alternet.org.

Waiting on a Train by James McCommons is available now.


Why Modern Wheat Is Making Us Sick

Why is modern wheat making us sick?  That’s the question posed by author Eli Rogosa in her new book Restoring Heritage Grains.Wheat is the most widely grown crop on our planet, yet industrial breeders have transformed this ancient staff of life into a commodity of yield and profit—witness the increase in gluten intolerance and ‘wheat […] Read More

A Dictionary to Survive the Future

When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left behind his great unpublished work, a masterpiece more than thirty years in the making—an intellectually evocative and inspiring dictionary, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. In it, Fleming examined the consequences of an economy that destroys the very foundations—ecological, […] Read More

Overshoot, Collapse, and Creating a Better Future

In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More

Plants & Pests: Will Bonsall’s Advice on “Wee Beasties” in the Garden

“From a plant’s point of view there is little difference between a cutworm, a woodchuck, a blight spore, and, for that matter, us.”“These are all things that in one way or another prey upon it. It is an inevitable constraint of all living things: We escape one peril only to ultimately succumb to another,” so […] Read More

To Create Climate-Secure Foodscapes, Think Like a Plant

The techniques and prophetic vision for achieving food security in the face of climate change contained in Gary Paul Nabhan’s Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land may well need to be implemented across most of North America over the next half-century, and are already applicable in most of the semiarid West, Great Plains, and […] Read More
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com