Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Choo-Choo-Choose Freight Rail

This is pleasant news from MoJo: Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are both in big (for a total near $10 bills) behind some of the bigger freight railroad lines.

Anybody who's ever ridden on a train with me knows I really like trains. Romanticism aside, they're a lot more efficient than trucks, cars or planes as both people-movers and stuff-movers, but have languished for a long time because our economy has been so happily dependant on cheap oil.

Now, passenger rail and freight rail tend not to play nice together. They share the rails, and freight trains go slow, while passenger trains want to go fast.  The US has long had a pretty good freight infrastructure, but a crappy passenger one, because our country is so darn big (Europe, thanks to its high density of cities, has had it the other way around).  Investing in the freight infrastructure will supposedly make passenger rail travel more attractive because trains will run more on time, but frankly, I don't see the present situation changing much-- people still won't go Chicago to LA (or New York to San Fran) by rail.

But this kind of investment can't hurt: Investment like adding extra tracks on high traffic lines will make business more profitable for the freight companies, getting more trucks off the road. Let freight trains rule the interior of our country.

Now, the change we also need: The California High Speed Rail Authority has a proposal for a west-coast passenger line that would get you from San Fran to LA in 2.5 hours for $55 (thanks, slev). I imagine doing the same thing on the east coast would be a little trickier-- because we have more cities, closer together; because the whole coast is more densely populated; because existing rail lines wouldn't cut it at all-- but not impossible.  Really, there should be no reason to travel between Boston and Washington (and all points between) by any means but rail, but service now is slow, expensive and irregular.  I look hungrily forward to the day...


Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

The idea for a Maglev between Baltimore and DC would supposedly get you from downtown to downtown in 18 minutes. Now THAT would be fantastic. Can you imagine the amazing economic impact it would have to connect Boston, NY, Philly, Baltimore, DC & Richmond with a Maglev? DC to NY in just over an hour, and Boston in around 2.5?

14/11/08 2:51 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

i'm in full support of maglev based on my love for both magnets and levitation, but i think this is a solution that's a long way off. maglev requires an awful lot of energy, and you lose a good deal of the energy efficiency that is part of what makes rail an attractive option in the first place.

on the other hand, you'd be levitating a train.

16/11/08 7:51 PM  

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