Putting the Brakes on High-Speed Rail

high speed rail

A high-speed rail system could be the centerpiece to a sustainable United States. Trains are a sustainable form of transportation, and electric high-speed rails are the most energy efficient among them all. Not only could high-speed rails reduce road and airway congestion, they would decrease our carbon emissions and dependence on oil and automobiles.

While electricity is still largely produced using coal, electric high-speed rails align the country with a move toward clean, renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Creating an integrated, national high-speed rail system would help establish a commitment to using renewable energy as the future of fossil fuel use becomes increasingly bleak.

The debate over installing high-speed rail systems to link major metropolitan areas across our country is picking up steam.  Now in heated discussion throughout the country, many Democrats see the high-speed rail as the key to a sustainable future for the United States, while Republicans view these projects as poor investments. It’s causing mixed feelings in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, where the proposed high-speed rail project has come to a halt. At the request of Wisconsin’s outgoing governor, work has been suspended, given election results and concern over consequences that might result from cancellation of the project once work has begun. Wisconsin’s governor-elect has reaffirmed his commitment to stopping the Milwaukee-Madison rail, stating that he believes this project will not help enough people and will cost too much. The governor-elect has returned the $810 million in federal grant money that was awarded to the project in early October from the Federal Railroad Administration for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act).  In Ohio, the same story has played out as the governor there sent federal funds back.  Similar projects like the Virginia rail, part of the Southeast corridor high-speed rail project, are causing controversy of their own as those opposed are voicing concern over how “high-speed” these rails will actually be, doubting their efficiency. The question lingers – what would it take to make the high-speed rail work for both parties throughout the country?

A Profitable Option

Those opposed to high-speed rails often see more good in existing infrastructure investment, such as roadwork. They believe this investment will serve more people than a high-speed rail might. However, high-speed rails may become a popular idea with this audience if they can serve not only individuals but national productivity. The executive director for the American High-Speed Rail Alliance, Mary Ellen Curto, sees high-speed rails as a means of productivity and global competitiveness. She claims that as roadways and air travel become more congested, a high-speed rail could relieve some tension on distribution channels. High-speed rails may not be effective in every part of the U.S., but in densely populated areas, a national high-speed rail system could develop into part of a positive business model, becoming not only a sustainable option but a profitable one.

A Sustainable Option

According to a 2006 study by the Center for Clean Air Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology in 2006, “building a high-speed rail system across the US could result in 29 million fewer car trips and 500,000 fewer plane flights each year, saving 6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of removing a million cars from the road annually.” The suggestion that high-speed rails would not only thin out traffic but also significantly reduce the environmental impact of travel makes a strong case for their implementation.

Moving toward a sustainable national infrastructure is a great undertaking for our country, but it will create energy independence, promoting a healthy environment and economy – a sustainable future.  This movement has to start somewhere, and that’s why city-to-city projects like the Madison-Milwaukee proposal raise important debates. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is currently holding open house public meetings around the state so that residents can learn more and voice their opinions on the high-speed rail. There are 54 similar projects occurring in 23 states, so visit the U.S. Department of Transportation website to learn more about high-speed rail projects in your area and get involved in the discussion.  It could mean the difference between serving our present and preserving our future.

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Author: Samantha Longshore

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