Saturday, May 30, 2009

High-speed trains - are they an answer?

From an article by Victoria Bernette in the New York Times online edition:

"By 2020, Spain plans to spend close to 100 billion Euros on infrastructure and billions more on trains. That figure could give pause to places like California, a potential high-speed corridor whose area and population are about four-fifths the size of Spain’s.

“High-speed rail is good for society and it’s good for the environment, but it’s not a profitable business,” said Mr. BarrĂ³n of the International Union of Railways. He reckons that only two routes in the world — between Tokyo and Osaka, and between Paris and Lyon, France — have broken even."

This is a great article. I encourage you to follow the NYT link above and read the rest of the story.

I admit I'm a little jealous that it isn't the US that's doing this. We talk about it - it's even on President Obama's talk list, but is this the right time for us to do it? Probably not the right time to build it, but the right time to plan it.

We have a cute little train that runs near our house. It's called the Sprinter. It links two Interstate highways - Hwy 5 and Hwy 15. But wait, highways are for cars and the Sprinter is a train. Yes, but by using the Sprinter, people in our area can meet the north-south trains on the coast and go to LA or to San Diego in an easy train hop.

Our little Sprinter (usually only two cars) is Swiss-designed and developed. It runs so quietly you hardly hear it coming. At the cross roads there are no clanging bells, only a discrete whistle. The whistle says "If you don't respond to this whistle and stop, I'll have to get a bigger whistle and then people will be angry at you." The whistle is actually focused to be heard mostly in the narrow area of the tracks. Crossings are heavily engineered to make you stop when the train goes by. So far, so good.

People complain about the cost of it. Surely it's only busy at commute times or good beach times. Oh! Did I mention it's a straight shot to the beach in Oceanside? The youngsters love it. On good beach days I've seen our little two-car train become four cars and three sections of four-cars (their max trains, I think) taking people to the beach and bringing them back. The big train advantage here is that you don't have to park the train. It takes care of itself while you enjoy the beach. Parking for cars along the beach is way too little on a hot day, but not bad on a pleasant winter day. (grin)

My mother used to take the train from Sacramento, CA, to Ohio where her mother and sisters lived. It was cheaper and she felt better about going that way. Besides, there is the gorgeous scenery. (And the not so gorgeous scenery as you ride through certain sections of the towns.)

I took the Shasta Daylight from Sacramento to Tacoma, WA, when I was going to college. It saved a little money and I loved to ride the train.

There it is. I love to ride trains. I'd love to see a network of nice European trains criss-crossing our country. (Do we build trains? I don't think so. Maybe the auto industry could look into that.)

When they built the Sprinter, they upgraded the tracks to accommodate it. A nice upgraded track benefits all the trains that run on it, not just the high-speed trains.



  1. I love trains too, I'd love to see high-speed trains across the US...

  2. This is an interesting post and I've never thought very much about trains in our country. We have an Amtrak but mostly our population is so sparse we don't need high speed trains for commuters, at least.

    And by the way--yes, the Marilynne at my award post the other day was you! Thanks...


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