This is how they do it in Europe. In America, passenger trains are one step above freight.
We are facing a grave transportation crisis in America. All across the nation, one small town after another has lost its air service, abandoned by carriers that find no profit in their traffic. On huge swaths of the country, people are confined to the automobile as their sole means of reaching out-of-town destinations. If they don't drive, or can't, they are without the means of traveling. The railroads that once serviced them have all but disappeared; the buses are, for other reasons, unsuitable for lengthy trips or unavailable.
These facts are so undeniable that they turn counter-arguments into foolish rants. The Luddites that claim we are too widely scattered a population for efficient rail transport are refuted by unmistakable trends leading soon to a population of 400 million people. Already, whole giant sections of our nation experience a human density fully equal to that in many countries of Western Europe where extensive rail service is universally supported by all political parties and attitudes.
The other stale arguments against expansion and improvement of our railroads are just as unpersuasive. Some transportation conservatives claim it's a violation of our principles for government to subsidize rail transportation; yet government subsidizes air travel and highways heavily, without a peep of protest from these nay-sayers. Or else the opponents claim that rail transportation is bound to operate at a loss. But air travel and highways return no profit to our federal government; they are subsidized because they produce untold billions of dollars of economic benefit, as rail travel would.
Or else the opponents claim that private enterprise should alone develop rail transportation. Yet they know full well that private companies cannot assume the risk of creating railroads. In the very few instances where private commercial interests are developing a train route (as in Florida, from Miami to Orlando), they are able to use tracks already in existence, requiring no further construction.
So the opponents of expanded rail transportation in America are simply voicing what their ideology calls them to express, and not what the facts require. And their stubborn resistance to change has left the rest of us to stew in massive traffic jams. In places like the west coast of Florida, motorists frequently face drives of several hours to go a mere eighty miles. And our atmosphere is increasingly polluted by emissions from planes, cars and buses, in contrast to the fuel efficiencies and clean engines of trains.
An organization known as the Association of Railroad Passengers (www.narprail.org) has mounted a strong campaign to persuade Congress to appropriate funds for expanded rail and high-speed rail. In recent years, their lobbying efforts have been focused on colleges and universities whose young people are open-minded to the development and free from the mindless opposition of the stay-putters. We should all support their efforts.
Recently, too, President Obama has proposed a four-year appropriation totalling $302 billion for roads, bridges, railways and public transit, of which $72 billion would go to trains (the plan would be funded by eliminating tax loopholes, such as the "carried interest" exemption that enables already-wealthy hedge fund managers to pay only 15 percent of their income in taxes). There is some hope of bi-partisan support for the plan, and every one of us should urge our representatives to support this means of bringing the United States into the modern world.