James McCommons’s Waiting on a Train celebrates the history of the railroads while striking an optimistic chord about the future of passenger rail in the U.S. At the same time, McCommons doesn’t flinch from the reality: the state of modern passenger rail in this country is an embarrassment. As James Howard Kunstler said in his introduction, “We had a system not so long ago that was the envy of the world; now we have service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.”
In this radio interview with Arthur Frommer, McCommons explores the need for a serious commitment to inter-city passenger rail by the federal government. The stimulus was a good start, but it’s not the end of the line—not by a longshot.
Frommer: Now, you of course are aware of the recent visit by President Obama to Tampa, Florida, where he announced the allocation of the $8 billion that Congress allotted to high-speed rail in the economic stimulus bill. How much of a dent will that put into the problem? How far along will that bring us in the creation of high-speed rail in the United States?
McCommons: It’s really only a beginning. He called it a jumpstart and that’s right because these transportation projects are very expensive. However, quite a bit of money, over a billion, was given to Florida and over, I think, two billion was given to California. Now these states really are on track for building high-speed bullet trains.
Frommer: They’re ready to start.
McCommons: They’re ready to start. Florida tried to build it twice, and it ended up again becoming a big political fight and the project kind of died, but now that there are federal dollars available, it, you know, it’s been resurrected.