High speed rail in the Midwest

Amtrak Acela Express highspeed rail train

Amtrak Acela Express high speed rail train

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published an article (1) about high speed rail in the Midwest. Because this is relevant to my interest in alternative energy and efficient mass transportation, it really piqued my interest. It is a little political but I was planning on posting an article about John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s energy policies any day now.

Here’s a quote from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article:

“ Congress has shown that it’s wisely heeding the advice of a broad, bipartisan group of national transportation experts and officials, including state Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi, who have spent the past few years examining the state of surface transportation in the United States at Congress’ direction.

Among their conclusions is that after a half-century of neglecting passenger rail in favor of roads and aviation, the federal government now must make a new, massive commitment to intercity rail travel.”

Just talking about high speed trains connecting the big cities in the Midwest is exciting. Currently the passenger rail trains and freight trains are the most efficient transportation method across land. They are also the least polluting. I have taken the train from Milwaukee to Chicago many times. The train station is located in a pretty questionable part of town. Parking your car is not easy and not safe. And once I arrived in Chicago I don’t know quite what to do once I get there. I walk to my destination, try to get on Chicago’s light rail system or hail a cab. The train itself doesn’t run that fast but it is a pleasure to sit back and read a book or work on my laptop. When I arrive in Chicago I feel rested and tranquil. These days however it is so busy you can’t even get a ticket.

Recently I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio and their guest was Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. He said the “in the past train routinely exceeded 100MPH”. And the new rail system will only be able to travel about 110 MPH. We haven’t really gone too far in 100 years. Why can’t we keep up with Spain or France or almost every other country overseas? How did we let our government allow big corporations (oil, automobiles, air, etc.) to destroy our rail infrastructure with lobbyist’s propaganda? It is no secret that automobiles are encouraged and subsidized with parking lots, federal and state road funds and until recently, cheap fuel. In addition, the airlines and automobile makers are given huge cheap loans, and breaks on almost everything. Now is the time to put it right.

You don’t have to go too far to find the culprits in Wikipedia. Take a look at “The Great American Streetcar Scandal”.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

“The Great American Streetcar Scandal is a conspiracy theory according to which streetcar systems throughout the United States were dismantled and replaced with buses in the mid-20th century as a result of illegal actions by a number of prominent companies, including National City Lines (NCL), a holding company owned in part by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum.”

“On April 9, 1947, nine corporations and seven individuals (constituting officers and directors of certain of the corporate defendants) were indicted in the Federal District Court of Southern California on two counts under the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act. The charges, in summary, were conspiracy to acquire control of a number of transit companies to form a transportation monopoly, and conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by the City Lines.”

The result of the trial was a joke. In 1949, all the defendants were found guilty but only on the second count of “conspiring to monopolize the provision of parts and supplies to their subsidiary companies.” Here’s the punch line: “The companies were each fined $5,000, and the directors were each fined one dollar.” Wow I’ll bet that really hurt them. I’d never do it again if I were fined a whole dollar.

Wake up and smell the corruption. It’s been around for a long time.

Never write off any new propulsion technology and let’s get a little more creative while we’re at it. Who knows, maybe a high tech coal fired clean catalytic steam engine could make a comeback. While I agree this is farfetched, all options should be explored. Trains are simply more economical, safer and least polluting that anything currently out there. They can be powered by a wide variety of energy sources from electricity to clean diesel or biodiesel. Let’s get more right of ways back and lay more tracks. And while we’re at it, we should create more bike trails that actually could take us to work. How about an area for bikes on the train?

A while ago I had another idea that was a little strange but who knows. I was thinking about a special train car system that works similar to what a ferryboat uses. What if you drove your car up a ramp and drove right onto a train car and then rode it to another city? And when you got there you just drove down the ramp off the train car and continued to your destination just like a ferryboat.

John Eberhardt

“Crisis should not derail a great idea. High-speed Midwestern rail network makes eminent sense. Obama gets it; McCain doesn’t” By JERRY RESLER, Posted: Oct. 11, 2008, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=804824

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