Re: [carfree_cities] Amtrak
- I think we should try to keep these things in perspective.
Outside the NEC, Amtrak is certainly a poor excuse for a national passenger rail system (within the NEC, it's just an ordinary bureaucratic bungle which others would fight to clean up if Amtrak folded), and probably a waste of money, but...
1. Comparisons with the rest of the world should acknowledge some marked differences, starting with population density, which, most assuredly, *is* a significant factor in developing formulae for providing effective transit.
Japan: 335 people per sq. Km.
United States: 31
(And, along the route of the Empire Builder...)
2. The federal subsidy for Amtrak pales in comparison with other outrageous expenditures (it would barely pay for one week's misadventure in Iraq, for instance). On the other hand, if we applied that $1.2 billion to, say, the development of a carfree demonstration district in Philadelphia or Detroit, we'd be doing much more to preserve the (currently very doubtful) future of human civilization.
3. Frankly, in the larger scheme of things, transit service in the vast expanses of rural America doesn't matter all that much -- or, at least, it can wait until later (if there is a later). The population of the entire state of Wyoming is about two-thirds that of the relatively small city of San Francisco. Creating absolute perfection and flawless efficiency -- forever -- in Wyoming rail service would have less effect on overall goals (environmental, economic, social) than a pilot project that relieved commute madness for one week in the Bay Area or Atlanta.
The problems of sustainable civilization require, more than anything else, creating vibrant, livable, *dense* urban areas for the large majority of humans on the planet. We already know that doing so requires developing carfree districts and cities. Let's focus on that.
For the moment, let them drive cars all over Montana and Wyoming. The metal monsters actually work pretty well out there.
P.O. Box 307
Corte Madera, CA
- OK, one more time -- then I'm finished with this one.
On Fri, 7 Jan 2005, emccaughrin wrote:
> > Yes, but we were talking about rail service in vast, unpopulated
> > rural places.
> Um, no. The discussion is about rail service to cities in the west,
> not to some cattle ranch way out in the plains somewhere. There are
> large metropolitan areas in the west -- Denver, Salt Lake City, to
> name a few -- with populations large enough to justify rail service,
> and not so far apart that rail cannot be competitive.
Well, that's two ;^)
I have no problem with competitive rail service in the west. Indeed, I'm a fan and have ridden many of the long-haul trains in the region. I'd simply rather spend the subsidy money in more productive ways (I have a list).
Of course, if passenger service between those city pairs really is competitive, the railroads will be eager to provide it.
> Norway has 300k km^2 and a population of 4.5 million. If one were to
> go by a naive interpretation of its 15 persons/km^2 density, Norway
> has no business running passenger rail because at it isn't "dense"
> enough -- and yet it runs comprehensive, 140mph rail service that is
> far better than anything you will find in even the most heavily
> populated US metropolitan area.
Come on, now. Norway's rail system is heavily concentrated in the more-populated southern part of the country. To the extent that it does serve the northern portions (does it extend beyond Bodo?), let's remember that we're talking about a long, very narrow corridor.
To put things in perspective (again), the Norwegian national rail network totals about 2,500 miles of track -- just a little more than the route of our oft-cited, lonely American long-haul, the Empire Builder.
Not to let this end without further (perhaps naive) reference to population density, the state of Montana, alone, is larger than Norway and, at 2.39 persons per square kilometer, is about *one-sixth* as densely populated.
I just don't think the arguments for subsidizing rural passenger rail service in the US are persuasive, definitely not in a resource-constrained world. Certainly, there are many other subsidies on which I'd merrily pull the plug, also (autos, airlines, ranchers and loggers, warmongers and arms merchants...), but, if given the chance to divert the handout from Amtrak to a really useful urban project, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
I suppose I should close by confessing that it would be fine with me if *all* long-distance travel was relatively difficult and (at least) moderately expensive. In a world of six-plus billion humans with an emerging permanent energy crunch, it is dangerous folly to encourage casual gallivanting around the globe.
P.O. Box 307
Corte Madera, CA