High speed rail U.S.A.

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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46 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Your last paragraph rebutted most of the problems you raised. Its not going to happen without government support. Most of the proposed corridors are in areas where it seems to make sense.

    It’s been obvious since the 70’s that at some point gas cost and availability was going to be a problem in our future. Of course when and how much of a problem are up in the air, but at some point we need to start getting for the inevitable future.Report

  2. Avatar Travis
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    says:

    “rail is a 19th-century mode of transportation” is not remotely a good argument, E.D. Automobiles are a 19th-century mode of transportation, too. Those archaic aircraft we fly are a backwards 20th-century mode of transportation. This is the 21st century. Where’s our teleportation devices and jetpacks?

    To pretend that the 250-mph high-speed corridor trains of today are equivalent to the 40-mph steam-engine trains of yesterday is willful denial of reality.Report

  3. Avatar Alex Knapp
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    says:

    I love that the people who complain about rails “not paying for themselves” are the same people who happily drive on their toll-free, public roads….Report

  4. Avatar North
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    says:

    I suspect it’s going to be electric cars E.D. Either science provides some panacea from solar energy (I doubt it but who knows) or else we’ll face a choice: The environmentalists will either throw out their idiotic prejudices about nuclear or we’ll power the cars with carbon emitting fuels until the growing scarcity of those fuels force us to do nuclear anyhow.Report

    • Avatar Zach in reply to North
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      says:

      “The environmentalists will either throw out their idiotic prejudices about nuclear.”

      I agree with the sentiment entirely, but, for what it’s worth, it’s impossible to offset a much larger portion of our electricity demand (let alone shifting gasoline demand to electricity) with nuclear power in the short- or medium-term. It’ll be a pretty herculean effort just to keep up with repairs & replacing decommissioned reactors to maintain the current nuclear energy output.

      You could imagine an Apollo-caliber government investment that spends a boatload of money and pisses on existing regulations engendering a big shift towards nuclear generation (and that would probably get held up in courts forever).

      Waste storage is an issue and opposing it is indeed idiotic, but it’s not like that’s what’s between us and a nuclear utopia. We could tax and spend our way to substantial nuclear increases, but if foreign oil or greenhouse gasses are your motivation, there are much more effective places to spend our money. Starting with energy efficiency regulations, mileage requirements, etc.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Zach
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        says:

        Zach, if we restricted ourselves only to the fourty year old reactor designs and practises I would agree completely with you but doing that is far from necessary. I’d encourage you to review the landscape nuclear field again. Your description leaves out several fields of significant promise and potential. Just a couple examples:

        Thorium, for instance is an old nuclear technology that the US actually ignored specifically because thorium reactions produce so little waste (the government at the time sought nuclear bomb material, electricity was a distinctly secondary objective). Thorium can also be used in current reactors to some degree greatly reducing their production of undesirable waste. The waste that does come from thorium reactions decays in roughly a century making storage a generational issue rather than a civilizational one.

        Waste in general of course is a dubious term. We are capable of burning nuclear “waste” in fast reactors right now. Doing so of course does involve plutonium so anti proliferation concerns do cause some to get the vapors at the idea. Now the French have been burning their waste for decades now and oddly enough not even a spec of fissile material has been smuggled from their plants. Something about having a pocket full of fissile material making one bleed from the eyes and die or what have you.

        Liquid salt technology is pretty much the only practical hope for using solar thermal power in any practical manner. That same technology of course has far more interesting applications in nuclear energy fields however since a reactor using liquid salt would be able to run at room pressure and be refueled without being shut down. The potential cost savings and the virtual elimination of the possibility of melt downs or explosions (a breach in containment or excess reaction would by its own nature strangle itself) offer huge advancements in safety in what is already a very safe field. (Please note that people get more radiation microwaving their popcorn than was released from 3 mile Island, the “worst” nuclear incident to have occurred in a reactor not run by insane socialist nutbags).

        Now of course we can retain our position of hostility towards nuclear. It is still (unfairly in my mind) ingrained in the population that nuclear power is somehow scary. Still the rest of the world will not be indulging in such nonsense. The French of course run their entire country off nuclear (plus or minus some 15-20% hydroelectric and misc) and are not sitting on their hands. The Indians are going whole hog into the idea and who can blame them considering how many people they’ll need to provide power for with no native fossil fuel reserves (and no patience for granola powered yoga reactors).

        Even the humble Canadians have been plunking meekly along on the subject, let us not forget the Chinese and of course old Mother Russia.

        Now I’m no expert but as I see it the question is not whether nuclear power will be implemented but whether we figure it out or buy the expertise from others. Since the timeframe on this thread is one for implementing railroads we’re talking about exactly the long horizons that nuclear power would implemented within. Obama, to his credit, seems to be at least open to the possibilities.Report

        • Avatar hans laetz in reply to North
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          says:

          Pay attention to the former head of the TVA, who managed the nation’s largest nuclear reactor effort. Dave Freeman, who now heads the LA DWP, says there is no reason to fear nuclear — except for its cost, which is magnitudes more expensive that coal, conservation, solar, or burning dollar bills for heat and light.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to hans laetz
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            says:

            Err Freeman has all kinds of hyperboli he indulges with about nuclear safety so he has plenty of objections beyond cost. Maybe if we fixed the laws and regulatory hurdles that help make building anything nuclear in the country that’d help the prices come down. It’s always been an amusing catch 22 that the nuclear opponents in the country enjoy; we shouldn’t make nuclear power less expensive because it’s too expensive to be worth making less expensive.

            If there’s one thing this recession has shown it is that the AGW crowd can’t hold a candle for inducing worry when compared to economic concerns. We can mandate florescent bulbs and jack up food prices growing biofuels all we want. If the AGW crowd wants to actually reduce carbon emissions they need a practical base line power supply that doesn’t emit carbon and can actually provide for the country’s power needs. Outside of nuclear there just isn’t any tech laying about. Personally I’m skeptical about the AGW economic trade off so frankly I’m fine with the power generation stumbling along the way it is. It’ll take Jesus descending from heaven with carbon free prayer-power for all before any kind of carbon cap makes it through congress in the current political environment.Report

  5. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    I love that the people who complain about rails “not paying for themselves” are the same people who happily drive on their toll-free, public roads….

    If I agree that roads should be self-sufficient (through a combination of gasoline taxes and toll fees), will you agree that rail should be self-sufficient as well?

    Does the fact that I use roads that I wish were self-sufficient but are not necessitate that I support rail that is not self-sufficient lest I be a inconsistent?Report

    • Avatar Gold Star for Robot Boy in reply to Trumwill
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      says:

      A gas tax is a road paying for itself? Really?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gold Star for Robot Boy
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        says:

        (psst! that’s not what he said)Report

      • No… but if you pay for roads with gas taxes, you’re charging the people that use roads for the roads that they use. It’s less exact than tolls, but it’s easier to administer and has the added benefit of applying pressure to those that drive fuel-inefficient cars to drive cars that get better mileage.Report

        • Avatar Travis in reply to Trumwill
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          says:

          But that’s a trap, because the fewer gallons of gasoline sold, the higher the fuel tax would have to be in order to cover the costs of maintaining highways.

          If gasoline went to $7 a gallon tomorrow and people all of a sudden bought much less of it, it wouldn’t materially affect the costs of maintaining roads and highways. There might be marginally less wear and tear on the roads, but the price of the raw material (asphalt) would increase sharply, as would the cost of operating gasoline-fueled maintenance equipment. Most other costs (policing, plowing, etc.) would be unchanged. Ergo, the tax rate would have to increase in order to continue funding current operations.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Travis
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            says:

            it wouldn’t materially affect the costs of maintaining roads and highways.

            If people are driving less and driving less heavy cars (two of the three ways people will cut down on emissions), that would alleviate the need for some maintenance. The more heavily a road is traveled, the more maintenance that is required. The heavier the traffic, the more maintenance that is required.

            However, the big savings would occur by not having to build new roads and not having to expand the ones we already have.

            Ergo, the tax rate would have to increase in order to continue funding current operations.

            Yeah, it would. But while the per-gallon tax would go up the average amount being paid would still go down some. At some point the costs of roads will reach a constant and the tax will have to keep going up as people drive less and less. But… so what? The roads still have to be paid for, as you point out. Somebody is going to have to pay for them. Making those that continue to drive pay for them still seems to me the most fair alternative.

            Now, once we reach the point where all cars are electric, then we’ll have to figure something else out. But that’s a problem I wouldn’t mind having.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Trumwill
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              says:

              If people are driving less and driving less heavy cars (two of the three ways people will cut down on emissions), that would alleviate the need for some maintenance. The more heavily a road is traveled, the more maintenance that is required. The heavier the traffic, the more maintenance that is required.

              That may be true in warmer climes, but here in the cold, freezing north, the weather — not just traffic — is what kills roads. As it freezes in winter, and the moisture in the road bed expands, heaving the road up. When it warms, the moisture melts, and runs out leaving a hole in the road bed underneath the pavement, which collapses into the road creating a pot hole.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Travis
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            says:

            But while the per-gallon tax would go up the average amount being paid would still go down some.

            I should clarify this. Hypotheticals are always fun.

            If I am driving 55 miles to and from work each day (110 total) and paying $4.00 a gallon, $2.00 of which is going towards taxes, and I’m driving a car that gets 20mpg. I’m paying $110 a week for gas, $55 of which is going towards taxes.

            So I decide to move closer to my job. Now I’m only driving 55 miles to and from work each day. Now I’m only paying $55.00 per week in gas. Happy day.

            Uh oh, the government has a shortfall because too many people did exactly what I did, which is cut emmissions in half. So now the gas tax is $4.00. My new weekly expenditure goes back up, but not actually to where it was before because while taxes have gone up, the cost of gas excluding taxes has remained constant. Now it’s $82.50. The government is still getting its $55 in taxes, though.

            Even so, I decide to get a more fuel efficient car. Now I get 40mpg. I’m actually paying less per week than I ever have before ($41.25).

            But once again, too many other people cut down on their consumption and the government is facing a shortfall. So once again the gas tax is doubled ($10/gallon now, $8 to taxes). Far from being right back where I started, I’m now paying $68.75 per week in gas, though the government is back to getting the $55 it needs from me to keep the roads up. Heck, let’s say that instead of purchasing a hybrid I purchased a compact that gets 30mpg. So I haven’t even kept up with the average consumption and am paying more per week in taxes than I ever have before… I am still actually paying less in gas than I was at the outset ($91.67 now).

            Of course, doing things like moving and buying cars have their own expenses so while I may come out ahead in gas I come out behind overall. Or maybe not if I get a smaller house or cheaper car (while 40mpg cars are expensive, 30mpg ones are cheap). But one of two things happen. Either people can reduce their gasoline consumption easily and inexpensively, in which case gas taxes skyrocket but overall costs trend downward, or people can’t easily reduce consumption in which case taxes don’t skyrocket.

            This all assumes that the government needs a constant amount from me. I don’t think this is the case because there would be less demand for new roads, so I think that amount would go down. This also assumes a constant gasoline price, which seems a bit more iffy, but keep in mind that if US consumption drops by half then gasoline demand will plummet and the supply/demand curves are generous to consumers.

            It creates some winners and some losers. Some people can reduce consumption more than others. Those that can’t will be hit hard while those that stay ahead of the curve will save money.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Travis
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            says:

            Two interesting things about this.

            First, gas isn’t very price inelastic so higher fuel costs aren’t quite the deterrent they might be for another good – it also makes the policy incredibly regressive.

            Second, I think that can be a problem with dedicated funding streams. Cigarette taxes that pay for anti-smoking campaigns, the more successful the campaigns the less revenue the state gets to maintain the campaign.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Kyle
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              says:

              1a. I don’t disagree. I don’t think that consumption would actually reduce all that much. I do think that it would reduce some over time. But if there is no reduction, you can just rely on the tax as-is. So I don’t see a problem. If the goal is burden allocation, I mean. If the goal is to reduce emission for environmental reasons, obviously you cross your fingers and hope for the elasticity.

              1b. I’m not sure how regressive it would be. While poor people may not be able to afford hybrids, they can’t afford trucks, either. Suburban commuters tend to be more well-off than average. I’ve lived in some dives and I’ve lived in the posh suburbs and I can tell you who spent more time on the road and who drove less fuel-efficient vehicles. Also, poor people are more likely to take public transportation.

              2. But if people are quitting smoking, then you don’t need to spend as much on the ad campaign, no? To me, this is something that kind of works itself out. When we really get in trouble is when we use revenue from sin taxes to fund something unrelated like education. Then, when the state collects less in cigarette taxes, they still have those other obligations to meet. That’s not the case with the roads, though, for the reasons I outline above. Even if usage does tumble, you can raise taxes to make up the difference.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Trumwill
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                says:

                1b.) Gas taxes are universally considered to be regressive, which I bring up because I think it creates another problem that would need to be addressed, not because it’s a dealbreaker or anything. In the west, particularly southwest, housing prices drop dramatically with distance from the city center and public transportation as a viable alternative is rather lacking.

                Though the less well off aren’t necessarily out buying Suburbans they are more likely to be driving older, less fuel efficient cars and less well maintained cars which impacts fuel efficiency.

                The biggest issue, however, is that fuel costs affect transportation costs for goods. Food goes up, clothing goes up. Mail goes up. So the poor get squeezed on both ends fuel costs go up and the prices of necessities.

                All things being equal it’s good policy for gas prices to rise. However, it’s an exceptionally raw deal for the poor and lower middle class without compensatory measures.

                2.) You’re right it’s not the case with roads, but zic is right (first time i’ve said that ever) that road maintenance is impacted by traffic but also by natural conditions, not just inclement weather. The big question here, though is whether the costs are worth it, poor roads impact cars, create safety hazards, etc…. So, before I assume that it isn’t a problem, I’d like to see more data.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Kyle
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                says:

                1b. Some good points, particularly about the general price increases perhaps affecting them more. I would be interested to know if it’s more or less regressive than the standard sales tax.

                2. I definitely don’t want unsafe roads, but I’m not offering them. As I illustrate above, if revenue falls significantly due to people consuming less fuel, you can raise the taxes to meet revenue goals. The result is that people that keep pace with the reduction in fuel usage will end up paying less overall, but the same amount (in the example $55 a week) to the government. The budget could remain the same, if necessary.

                So if the government needed it, the money would be there. But even if we assume maintenance costs would be the same, there’d still be at least some savings because fewer new roads would need to be built and expanded and, if there was a huge reduction in consumption, you could even close lanes and stop spending so much money maintaining them. I seriously doubt it would reach that point, though.Report

            • Avatar Sam M in reply to Kyle
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              says:

              “Cigarette taxes that pay for anti-smoking campaigns…”

              The bigger problem is that… very little of the cigarette money actually goes to anti-smoking campaigns. We see the same thing happening thr gas taxes, which now go to support hiking trainls and rail, too.Report

  6. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    “However at some point I believe we will be short enough on fuel that it will become cost-prohibitive to commute or travel long distances in cars.”

    Commuting and going long distances seem like separate issues. And that matter from time to time. For instance, back in the late 1990s, the feds were trying to do a $4 billion “demonstration project” of maglev. The two places in the final running were DC/Baltimore and Pittsburgh. In both cases, I believe, the trains connected airports to major metro areas. In the case of Baltimore, the train got up and running for about 16 miles, then stopped at BWI, then made it’s way to DC, about 20 miles further. But those distances didn’t even allow the train to get up to speed. Some demonstration.

    Something similar was going on in Pittsburgh. The problem in getting from the airport to downtown is not that people aren’t going 300 miles per hour. It’s that people aren;t going at all, because they are stuck in traffic. So if that’s the gap you are trying to bridge, all you need is a right-of-way that you keep free of traffic, and some pretty cheap existing technology. In the case of Pittsburgh, a covered wagon would be fine to get you downtown. It’s not that far.

    To truly demonstrate the value, you need medium-length hauls of 200-500 miles, it would seem. Something that’s inconvenient to drive, but also too close to really fly. Like maybe a connector from Chicago to Columbus to Cleveland to Pittsburgh. Maybe to Harrisburg, Philly and DC after that.

    But just because we use trains to commute and trains to travel distance doesn’t mean the have to be, or even should be, the same train. A commuter train needs to stop about every half mile or so. No need to build a multi-billion-dollar Maglev for that.

    Oh… and what Trumwill said. Even though I am a fairly livertarian fellow, I would support much higher gas taxes to support the roads I use.Report

  7. Avatar Zach
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    says:

    The problem with Federally funded high speed rail in America is that everyone needs to get a slice of the pie, and states that don’t have any use for rail (or are too big for it to be worthwhile) have a disproportionate share of the vote. Matt Yglesias routinely points out contradiction between rail experts’ choices of high priority lines and what ends up getting through Congress. Obama was just at the groundbreaking for… what… a link from Tampa to Orlando?

    There are a lot of good reasons to support growing our rail infrastructure. There isn’t a good reason as to why we shouldn’t start with upgrading existing lines that already are in high demand.Report

  8. Avatar And
    Ignored
    says:

    “right now it is impractical due to the ready supply of cheap oil”

    Not so. How much have we spent on our military presence in the Mideast over the past 50 years? I don’t have the answer to that, but I know it dwarfs an $8 billion investment in rail.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    I wonder if there’s not some infrastructure that’s already built. In Buffalo, they closed the Grand Central terminal back in 1979, but it’s still there. A historical group has been renovating it for some time now, and I think part of their thinking is that it could still be used at some point. What fascinates me is that they used to have a really cheap train to Toronto, which I would imagine they’d like now if the Bills end up relocating there.Report

  10. I think there needs to be some clarification on rail. When we talk about high-speed rail we’re talking basically about something that would replace planes. These trains would enable you to commute from St.Louis to Chicago for the day in quick speed and comfort. Then there’s light rail, which is your Metros, your T’s, etc. This is where the reduced carbon footprint theory comes in and notions of people abandoning their cars for these systems. The problem there is that we live in a suburban culture, not just in that people live in the suburbs but that businesses are also in the suburbs now. It would require huge systems and not be nearly as efficent as a system based in urban cores like you see in the Northeast or Chicago.

    The biggest need right now is increased capacity for heavy rail. This is your commercial, freigh moving trains. Those save tons of fuel because they run on efficent diesel and there is billions tied up in the movement of goods. Our system is woefully outdated which forces companies to adopt much more costly shipping methods, thus affecting bottom lines in a big way.

    We have to think about why we’re advocating for these things and what forces will drive their possible adoption. My opinion is that money talks. I don’t see a huge demand for high-speed rail when we can use our cars or cheap airfares for short flights. For light rail – I just don’t see enough demand in most metro areas and certainly not a big desire to give up cars.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      I agree in general. I guess the point is that unless we convert to near 100% electric cars the suburbs are utterly doomed. Even if the AGW crowd are completely wrong the fuel will run out eventually.

      On the issues of heavy rail I agree with you completely. The % of our freight that tractor trailers haul across the country is a hysterical joke for an industrialized country. Light rail absolutely cannot replace cars in suburbs but in linking vital hubs, airports to downtown or downtowns to their five or six satellite sub-cities the light rails can pay for themselves and eliminate enormous amounts of car use.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      “when we can use our cars”

      That’s just the point. People will always drive of course, especially in the suburbs, but the question is for how many people owning a car is currently a necessity because of a lack of options for regular trips they take. When or if rail provides an economical alternative to car ownership for a large number of peoples’ trips, a tipping point is possible where the choice not to own a car becomes a near-parity option to car ownership, at which point demand for service across a wider range of trips would make even broader expansion viable. Or not; there is risk involved. I do believe this should take a for that leans more toward public-private partnerships rather than purely public investment, so that private investors’ sensitivity to market signals can be used to deploy public investment in rail in the most economical ways.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Oh yes Michael, agreed. The problem is that laying down rail corridors in already developed cities presents an obstacle that I just don’t see us overcoming easily. Compared to trying to open enough space in urban areas to run the rail lines through; electrifying the country’s automobile fleet and providing a network of recharging stations strikes me as much simpler. To my mind the primary obstacles are battery life and power generation (and inclination of course, barring some strides on the AGW front noone is going to be interested in bothering for quite possibly fifty to a hundred years while we wait for the gasoline to run out).Report

        • Avatar Sam M in reply to North
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          says:

          “To my mind the primary obstacles are battery life and power generation”

          But what about disposal? I never hear anyone talking about that. From what I understand, disposing of the world’s cell phone batteries is a growing enviromental problem. Batteries are very corrosive.

          But cell phone batteries are really small. Car batteries are really big. What do you do when we are throwing a couple million of them away every year? Where do they go?Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Sam M
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            says:

            As I understand lithium batteries disposal would not be a problem because disposing of them would be like throwing away money. They’d be worth far more recycled into new batteries.Report

      • I just don’t see the end-goal. Is it no more burning of fossil fuels? If so, where does the electricity come from?

        North points out the slew of obstacles facing the development of light rail – for little payoff in my opinion. We’re a car country. That is the framework we should be working within.Report

    • Avatar Travis in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      But short flights are exactly what takes much longer today than 10 years ago, particularly thanks to draconian “9/11 changed everything” security measures. This is precisely where high-speed rail has a huge niche waiting for it.

      The proposed California high-speed rail line would take 2 hours 40 minutes to travel between downtown San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles.

      Now, flight time between the two cities is about 60 minutes takeoff to touchdown, but by the time you’re done dicking around with parking, check-in, the TSA goons strip-searching you, boarding half an hour before pushback, sitting on the tarmac waiting for a departure slot, taking off, landing, taxiing to the gate, getting off, walking to the rental car center… you get the idea. It’s a three-hour trip now.

      Flying in the midrange corridors is far more time-consuming than it used to be, and that makes high-speed rail even more competitive. The formerly-lucrative air shuttles from New York to Washington, D.C. are a shell of their former selves because of all the airport security BS. Amtrak’s Acela service, despite it being HSR in not much more than name only, has totally outcompeted airlines in that corridor. There are many 200-300 mile routes like it begging for the infrastructure.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Travis
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        says:

        I can conceptualize a place for rail in the future transit grid; something for longer hauls than you could practically make in an electric car but shorter distances than a large fraction of the continent (planes will always win from LA to NY for instance).Report

      • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Travis
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        says:

        I’m not suggesting there isn’t a demand – I know we would love to be able to zip up to Chicago for the day and be back home by midnight and have the comfort of a train verses a cramped seat in coach. The problem is that it doesn’t address core economic needs and I don’t think the tourist/business transit demand is enough to drive billions in investment in rail lines, right-of-way, etc.Report

        • Avatar Travis in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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          says:

          Why not? Those same demands were enough to drive billions in federal investment in highways and airports long before the demand was there for any of it.

          It’s the classic double standard for rail. It’s OK for the government to heavily subsidize private automobiles and airlines, but heaven forfend one red cent gets spent on railroad infrastructure.Report

          • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Travis
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            says:

            Tourism isn’t what drove federal highway investment. Interstate commerce did. Fast rail doesn’t contribute to that.

            Sure it’s a double-standard….because high-speed and light rail don’t offer any appreciable benefit not already being delivered by airlines and automobiles. the only advantage to high-spped rail over airlines is comfort. Is that enough to justify govt subsidy? The only advantage offered by light rail as opposed to cars is a reduced carbon footprint. Again, is that enough?

            As I stated above – I am in 100% favor of heavy govt investment in heavy rail. There’s an immediate economic payoff and it also would reduce carbon footprint in urban areas. It’s win-win.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      Good points mike, I’m glad you made them.Report

  11. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    Rail suffers the same disadvantage alternative energy suffers: that is, heavily subsidized fossil fuels and a modern infrastructure built entirely around the use of fossil fuels make any effort to compete nearly impossible – at least not without further subsidies. Removing subsides for fossil fuels could help level the playing field, but I don’t see that happening ever really. No politician wants that blood on their hands.

    Thanks for making this important and often-neglected point. The problem is that green technologies or green energy methods are prohibitively expensive – many of them, particularly things like using algae or sewage to produce ethanol, are far more cost-effective than fossil-fuel use – it’s that fossil fuels are massively subsidized, which prevents alternatives from competing. And then conservatives complain about green subsidies.

    If conservative politicians really believed in free markets, instead of subsidies for business, they’d be championing the end of fossil fuel subsidies.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Katherine
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      says:

      Good point Kate, and frankly urban sewage has always been an interesting subject. We’re talking about a very nasty but chemically very interesting high quantity amount of goop that we treat and dump. There simply has to be some practical use for the stinking stuff, I wonder how much of the obstacle is simply infrastructural inertia? We’d have to rework the 50 year old pipes to capture the benefits on a large scale and who has the money/patience for that?Report

  12. Avatar Kyle
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    says:

    Erik can you go into more detail or point me in the direction of info on fossil fuel subsidies? I know of heating oil ones and the agribusiness throw away ethanol but those aren’t terribly large.

    As for the rail thing, I think the answer is bigger than just high speed rail, ala Mike’s comments, but it’s an important part of the puzzle.

    Supertanker emissions are growing to be a bigger issue than cars and all the work on electric vehicles doesn’t address the fuel usage and emission costs of air travel, which are more affected by high speed rail than auto emissions.

    I agree about the money issue. I’ve never understood the piece-meal approach. If we spend a few hundred million here, a few million there, and appropriate a billion on a project that may not be completed in the first place, aren’t we wasting more money than simply outlaying tens of billions to just get it done – ala the interstate system.Report

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