Planes Trains and Budgetmobiles
By now we’ve all heard of Obama’s massive planned public works projects, a throwback to the days when infrastructure development could serve as a short-ticket to job creation and economic stimulus. There are, no doubt, certain problems with the concept (not everybody who’s lost their job in this recession is qualified for, or even desirous of, a 9 to 5 resurfacing the interstate), but reinvesting in our federal infrastructure is never a bad idea. As the fourth-republic budget gets gnashed through the gears of Congress, why don’t we hear anybody talking about railroads?
For an administration that conceits to taking carbon budgeting seriously and promises higher efficiency transportation, the development of viable, short-range, light rail system in densely populated corners of the country seems like a no-brainer. Rail travel is cleaner and cheaper than car or plane travel; and in the age of hours-long waits at major airports and mind-numbing tarmac delays, may even save time over short-range flights. Think of it this way: To fly from New York to Boston or from L.A. to S.F., you’re already spending upwards of 400% more time at the airport than in the air. What if you could make the trip in an essentially equivalent amount of time, but without dealing with lines, embarrassing pat-downs, late planes, uncomfortable seats and restrictive baggage requirements. Moreover, you could skip the endless hassle of scouring the internet for deals and getting gouged with hidden taxes. Plus it would be cheaper.
Naturally, America is just too big to incorporate the kind of large-scale railroad system that we see in western europe, but certain regions are certainly dense enough to support rail networks which aspire to more that the “extended suburb” service of trains like the Long Island Railroad. Rerouting travel from car or plane to train would not only increase energy efficiency in general, but would also reduce our reliance on oil, since trains could be powered using electricity, which is centrally produced at power plants (themselves a great candidate for green upgrades).
Obama plans to earmark $675-775 billion in stimulus funds. He wants to create 3 million new jobs. The money and manpower are waiting in the wings. Lets ask our favorite new reformer for a real change in the American transportation sector.