America, it is time to get serious about rail and stop getting our ass kicked by the rest of the world.
Trains are the transportation of the 21st century, but when it comes to America's rail system we are still stuck in the 19th century. China, Japan and Europe keep launching ever-increasing high-speed trains while our old school diesel clunkers continue to chug along at the same speed they did in 1940.
As I discussed in Grand Theft Auto 1, my time in LA inspired me to write these posts so let me relay another couple anecdotes. My wife and I drove to Disneyland to meet up with my sister, her husband and my little niece. It was a beautiful sunny morning in LA; I checked Google maps on my iPhone and the distance between our hotel and Disneyland was about 32 miles or so. I figured, great we'll hop in the car, shoot down the highway and be there in less than an hour. Needless to say even on Saturday morning it took us almost 2 hours to get to Disneyland. Here is another one. I had to go to Las Vegas for a conference, so we figured, hey let's drive - it would be scenic and fun driving through the desert and we figured we could get to Vegas in around 4 hours, which was the estimated time according to GPS when we departed. Let's just say I will never try that again; we arrived in Vegas six hours after departure having battled exhausting and constant traffic the entire time.
Both of these routes are absolutely screaming for rail. A high-speed train between Las Vegas and LA seems like a no brainer with some kind of maglev train like the one I took recently in Shanghai, which travels up to 268 MPH and averages 160 MPH throughout. If the LA to LV train went at the same clip, it could do the route in roughly an hour and forty minutes. I have to believe that for this highly traveled route - that takes 5 hours by car on a good day - the enormous investment it would take to get high-speed rail up and running (whatever the format) would pay for itself over time, not only monetarily through fares but also through the thousands of lives it would save by preventing car accidents, the beneficial impacts from reduced pollution, and reduced wear and tear on the roads and the environment around them.
For the Disney route, the cities of LA and Anaheim, the State of California and Disney itself, should look no further for inspiration than the existing dedicated train that goes from Hong Kong to Hong Kong Disney on the outskirts of the city. I believe it is a 30 minute or so train ride from downtown Hong Kong. I rode it last year: it's fun, fast, and efficient. With Disney colors, sculpted Disney characters on the train and Disney decals on the outside, it starts the Disney experience the second you step on the train. Disney is a company that could step up tomorrow and get this done. Walt Disney was always on the forefront of technology and was a lifelong believer in trains. Hey, they could even extend the monorail; it would be an exciting vote of confidence in rail and allow Disney the chance to lead and get tremendous press coverage. If anyone knows someone at Disney please put in the good word!
Now I know I am not saying anything groundbreaking here, but the question I have is when are we going to get serious about rail? It is all of our responsibility to continue to push for rail! E-mail or tweet your Representatives and Senators, blog, write the newspaper, etc. Most importantly, tell the Whitehouse that though President Obama is saying the right things, the $8 billion pledged for the first tranche of US high-speed rail development is a ridiculously paltry amount. It took $14 Billion to build a 6 mile highway tunnel through Boston, it's going to take a lot more than $8 billion to kick start America's rail program .... but any investment will pay dividends for dozens of years to come! The Boston to Washington corridor - the most traveled rail corridor in the US - only received $112 million out of the $8 billion President Obama recently pledged. It would take roughly 5 times that to make Avatar, a 2 hour+ movie, come on! All I can say is, at least the Acela, the Boston to NY train, finally, as of a few weeks ago, has Wi-Fi.... just in time to giveaway what would have been a competitive advantage to the airlines that are now adding Wi-Fi to planes (5 years too late Amtrak!)......
If we want to stop getting manhandled by the rest of the world in the rail arena and maybe even use our American ingenuity to someday lead it; if we care about the lives of Americans (42,000 + people are killed every year in auto accidents, one year of auto deaths in the US equals roughly the same number of active duty US military personnel that have been killed on duty since 1982*); if we are sick of sitting on interstate highways in traffic, and if we are concerned about our rapidly deteriorating environment, then it's time to get inter-state high-speed rail moving because we are running late!!!
Next up Grand Theft Auto 3: Rail City (Subways, Light Rail) Boston you are not off the hook yet!
*Super Freakonomics, Levitt & Dubner, 2009-Page 87