Tuesday, February 3, 2009

High-speed Rail: A New Superhero

The United States’ economy is not nearly as capitalistic as most people believe. The recent automotive bailout is only a sliver of the truth, which is to say that the entire U.S. automotive industry has been a nationalized entity since the Eisenhower era—if not well before this time. At the very least, it is impossible to argue against the fact that the National Highway System has indirectly benefited auto manufacturers more than any public works project has benefited a private industry in history! Indeed, it is safe to say that automobiles would be a niche market in the world if it were not for the United States various governments’ insistence on building larger and larger roads.

Unfortunately for the American people, automobiles have never made much sense. Trains are far more efficient at carrying large amounts of cargo. Some government officials have finally begun to realize this simple truth. While not ideal, the California High Speed Rail Authority offers some interesting statistics: a 255 mile trip from Los Angeles to Fresno could be completed in 1 hour and 24 minutes by rail (at an average speed of approximately 182 mph); yet, it would cost less than the same trip in a car. [1]

Perhaps even more importantly, “In 41 years of high-speed train operation in Japan, there has not been a single passenger fatality, largely due to the separation of the rail line from roads and the myriad of safety features and operating procedures incorporated into the service.”[2]

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently bragged on its web site, “New Data Showing Record Low Highway Fatalities!”

What’s this new record low?

Estimates show 31,110 people died on U.S. roads from Jan.-Oct., compared with 34,502 in 2007 during that same period.” [3]

And yet, we care so much about the relatively small number of people who died on September 11th?

What is more, even the proposed rail system for California is a travesty—it is a much better idea for the state than more highways/automobiles, but it is absolutely ridiculous how long construction of the service is expected to take. Even an “initial segment” of the system may not become operational until 8 to 11 years. Oddly enough, despite the fact that the California High Speed Rail Authority seems to be aware of the Japanese rail system, a simple search of Wikipedia will show that “Construction of the (Tōkaidō Shinkansen) line began on April 20, 1959 under JNR president Shinji Sogō and chief engineer Hideo Shima. It was completed in 1964, with the first train travelling from Tokyo to Shin-Ōsaka on October 1 of that year." [4]

In other words, the Japanese constructed a rail segment 40 years ago at almost twice the speed of the Californian construction proposal—of course, the modern train for California will be much faster, but then again, technology is also far more advanced today. A technical explanation would be far too long for this blog, but an even better abstract comparison may be the construction of the Union Pacific railroad in 1865. “The rails of the 'First Transcontinental Railroad' were joined on May 10, 1869, with the ceremonial driving of the 'Last Spike' at Promontory Summit, Utah, after track was laid over a 1,756 mile (2,826 km) gap between Sacramento and Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa in six years by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad.” [5]


1. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/map.htm

2. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20080123171537_ImplementationPlan.pdf

3. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkaid%C5%8D_Shinkansen

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcontinental_railway

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