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High speed rail - Treehugger interview

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  • Christopher Miller
    An interesting interview on Treehugger with a proponent of high speed rail in the US. How much would a fast intercity rail service help in lowering overall
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2009
      An interesting interview on Treehugger with a proponent of high speed
      rail in the US.
      How much would a fast intercity rail service help in lowering overall
      demand for automobiles, I wonder? (As opposed to merely taking
      passengers out of airplanes.) If it did have this kind of effect,
      might it help bring about a related demand for reduction of cars in

      Obviously, if you live without a car in town, this would make it
      easier to travel between major cities, but what about smaller routes
      outside cities? Again you would have to depend on cars or buses.

      This is going to be a long haul...


      Will Stimulus be Enough to Bring High-Speed Rail to America?
      by Jesse Fox, Tel Aviv, Israel on 02.28.09

      BUZZ UP!

      Rail station in Shanghai, China (photo via thetransportpolitic.com)

      About a year ago, TreeHugger interviewed Andy Kunz, an urban designer,
      New Urbanist and rail advocate. Kunz laid out a pretty convincing case
      for high speed rail as the solution for a number of problems facing
      American transportation, includingoutdated infrastructure, peak oil
      (or "energy independence," depending how you look at it), out of
      control carbon emissions, and more.

      In fact, Kunz said, we were at a fork in the road, and building a new
      national high-speed rail network was the "single most important action
      we can do to get us off the oil and change the direction of the nation
      for the better." TreeHugger decided to catch up with Andy Kunz for
      another conversation about rail and high-speed rail in America, now
      that it seems the idea is finally catching on.

      TreeHugger: Andy, a lot has happened since we last spoke about a year
      ago. The concept of high-speed rail in America, which a year ago was
      on very few people's agendas, has now become an almost mainstream
      idea. Transit ridership is way up all over, and a high-speed rail line
      has been approved in California. As an advocate for high-speed rail,
      how have you experienced the events of the
      past year?

      Andy Kunz: With great excitement! It's really amazing what has changed
      and how quickly! It's truly an unbelievable time in the history of
      America - unfolding as we speak. I am of course very saddened to see
      the suffering this recession is causing, and it's unfortunate that we
      have to go through such a big disaster to change our ways. It would be
      so much easier and less painful if we just planned these changes
      during normal times.

      Nonetheless, the fact that so many people are discovering rail as a
      great form of transportation is spectacular! We are entering a new
      green era that includes green living, green energy, and green
      transportation. Out of this I see a huge opportunity to fundamentally
      change America for the better with high quality rail transportation
      and great walkable communities for everyone.

      TreeHugger: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the
      recently-passed stimulus package) allocates almost $18 billion for
      public transportation projects, including $8 for high-speed rail.
      According to reports, the new administration is also planning to
      budget an additional $1 billion for high-speed rail projects every
      year for the next five years. Rahm Emanuel is calling high-speed rail
      Obama's "signature issue." Has high-speed rail's time finally come in

      Andy Kunz: I would say yes, high-speed rail's time has finally come to
      America. I hope this does become Obama's "signature issue", and I'd
      love to help him plan out the national system. But if we are going to
      have high-speed rail anywhere near the levels that are operating today
      across Europe and Asia, (and under development in 12 more countries),
      we need to be thinking in much larger numbers to build this new system.

      Recently, President Obama was in Florida talking to the people and
      said: �You go to Shanghai, China right now, and they�ve got high-speed
      rail that puts our railroads to shame.� He went on to say how America
      has always had the best infrastructure in the world. I agree, and am
      happy to hear such talk coming from Washington where rail has pretty
      much been ignored for many decades in America.

      TreeHugger: How much can be done with these budgets? What projects do
      you anticipate will be promoted with the new funding?

      Andy Kunz: It depends on how they are planning to divide up the money.
      If they are putting the majority of the money into the California
      system as the Federal match, then it makes total sense. The California
      system will be funded by about a third each from the state, the
      Federal government, and private industry. The benefit of this will be
      the California project getting built faster, which will then help spur
      other states into building their own systems and the new national
      system will emerge.

      Last year, California voters approved a $40 project to link up the
      state's major cities via a network of high-speed trains. (image via
      California High-Speed Rail Authority)

      This money could also be planned for a couple of starter systems in a
      few key corridors. France started this way by building their first
      high-speed line in the busiest corridor - Paris to Lyon, a distance of
      240 miles. This was their first piece of what is now a national system.

      As a comparison, the California high speed rail project is about 800
      miles and budgeted to cost $40 billion, which divides down to around
      $50 million per mile. So if the $8 billion was spent in just 2
      corridors at $4 billion each, that will only buy 80 miles of high
      speed rail in each region. Two of our busiest corridors are Washington
      DC - New York City (200 miles); and New York City - Boston (175
      miles), so you can see this money wouldn�t even build half of both of
      those corridors, unless this money is being used to attract private
      funding, which could make up some of the balance.

      If the money is being divided up among a number of states/regions,
      very little will get done other than some studies and minor upgrades
      to existing systems, which is certainly a start, but not really the
      funding levels and speed at which we should be doing this.

      TreeHugger: While the Obama administration is investing in new and
      existing transit systems, existing public transportation services are
      being cut back around the country, and California's budget woes may
      even threaten the implementation of its newly approved plan for high-
      speed rail. Will the stimulus money be sufficient to get the country's
      existing transit systems back on track?

      Andy Kunz: It should be, if we focus on what�s really needed. Keep in
      mind this stimulus is only part of what will fund the transition to a
      green transportation system for the country. We have road budgets that
      can be drastically cut to help fund trains. We can also use some of
      our massive defense budget to fund the train systems since getting the
      nation off oil is certainly a matter of national security. Plus the
      big transportation reauthorization bill is coming up for renewal later
      this year - which will set the transportation spending priorities for
      the next 5 years.

      We do need a master plan for rail at the national level as well as
      regional and local levels all across the country.
      We really should also be looking at peak oil more seriously and how we
      currently use around 20 million barrels of oil each day in America.
      According to peak oil experts, the amount of oil we will be able to
      consume will be reduced by around 9-10% each year starting now. So we
      have to approach our rail planning to build up our passenger capacity
      at the same rate as our oil is reduced.

      In other words if we have 9% less oil each year, that means that 9% of
      trips in cars, airplanes, trucks, etc will not be able to be made. So
      if we are to maintain mobility and things like shipping food to our
      stores, we have to be building rail capacity to expand at that same
      rate (or faster) as oil depletion. This is the sort of planning we
      need to be doing on a national scale all the way down to community
      levels in our rail capacity.

      TreeHugger: Back to the stimulus plan - in that same package, some $27
      billion was allocated for new and existing highways and bridges. Why
      are we still giving more funds to transportation projects that favor
      the private car?

      Andy Kunz: Because some of us are still stuck in the past, and still
      think building more roads is going to solve congestion. Anyone who
      understands peak oil and climate change realizes that we have reached
      the end of the car/sprawl culture and we have to move on to build the
      new train/walkable urbanism culture.

      Granted some of the stimulus money is going to fix bridges before they
      collapse like the one in Minneapolis, which is probably a good idea,
      but there are plenty of road projects being put forward that no longer
      make sense. The sooner we build more rail systems, including better
      freight rail, the sooner we can relieve some of the pressure from
      those failing bridges by taking a lot of the car and truck traffic off
      of them.

      Pouring tens of billions of dollars into the auto manufacturers
      doesn�t make sense either, unless it forces them to retool completely
      into manufacturing trains. In the 1940's, they stopped making autos
      completely and retooled their factories in less than 4 months to build
      the equipment needed for the war effort. They can do the same today to
      build all types of trains from high speed to metros, to streetcars.
      We need a new business for America to get in to, and we have a huge
      need for many new trains, so instead of buying them from foreign
      manufacturers, we should be building them right here in America and re-
      energizing our industrial base. Train manufacturing could become a
      huge industry, larger than the US auto industry ever was, and create
      millions of green jobs while at the same time converting our nation to
      real sustainability.


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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