Saturday, February 9, 2013

High Speed Rail - Build It and They Will Ride


Over the coming weeks, I am planning on presenting a series of blog posts defending the construction of a nation-wide network of high speed rail (HSR) trains.  This would be a major endeavor for our nation, costing in its most expansive forms, such as the "Dream" system shown above, sums on the order of a trillion dollars.

Having used the Japanese Shinkansen HSR system many times and ridden the French TSV once, I am absolutely convinced that HSR is the best transportation system for mid-distance intercity travel.  In the range of 100-400 miles (150-600km), HSR is as fast or faster than flying, faster than a car, and far more comfortable and timely than either, while costs are similar on a per-mile basis.  Additionally, HSR results in about a quarter of the carbon emissions relative to flying and driving, while reducing many other major pollutants by similar amounts.  HSR, like all forms of public transit, tends to increase property values, enhance economic activity, provide mobility for the elderly, handicapped, and young, and help foster the "walkable urban" communities that compose some of the most sought-after real estate in the country.  Oh, and did I mention that HSR is TSA-probing-free?

Given that our projected population in the year 2100 is almost 478 million, finding ways to move the additional 160 million Americans who will be living here a century from now is a long-term project that we cannot ignore.  It is also likely that more roads and more airplanes are simply not the answer, both due to issues with congestion and limited returns on trying to cram more vehicles through the same spaces, and due to the fact that both are heavily reliant on oil, whose price is almost certainly going to rise with time.  HSR, which is compact, self-contained, and electricity driven, can complement both our two existing networks intelligently, while greatly improving our chances of successfully integrating so many new Americans.