Saturday, May 7, 2011

National Train Day

Nostalgia for the Past, or Hope for the Future?

National Train Day, Portland 2010~ May 7 is National Train Day. Here in Portland the day was marked by festivities at Union Station, including the display of a famous steam locomotive.

The use of a vintage engine of yesteryear is appropriate, and instructive. How much better it would be to feature new technology that represented the future of rail travel, such as modern, energy-efficient trains, or even high-speed rail cars. Alas, high-speed rail in the United States, while envisioned and nominally funded, remains a distant prospect. While China and others continue to invest heavily in new rail, many in our Congressional leadership remain hostile to infrastructure, especially trains.

Our passenger rail network has shrunk over the past 40+ years:
Amtrak passenger rail network service shrinkage over the past 40 years

It seems even China has critics of high-speed rail; however, the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure for cars is vastly higher. The US spent at least $40B on roads from 1921 through 1941 and about $129B on the Interstate Highway system. In today's dollars, the sum of these two would be at least $792B. That's a lot of money to be sure, but such expenditures didn't bankrupt the US then, and, even with the current deficit and debt hysteria, it wouldn't bankrupt the US today. China has spent only a third this amount on its high-speed rail, from which far-sighted investment it will benefit for decades.

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