Infrastructure 479px-Ray_LaHood_official_DOT_portrait

Published on December 24th, 2010 | by Jo Borrás

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Ray LaHood Think High-Speed Rail Should Be Our Legacy …

Ray LaHood

… and he’s right.

In a recent article, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pushes for the development of an efficient high-speed rail system in the United States to rival those of Japan and Europe.

Unlike most articles/letters of this kind, however, LaHood’s piece (originally published in the Orlando Sentinel) is compelling stuff, urging young (cynical?) people to consider their generation’s legacy and contribution to future generations of Americans.  It’s the kind of plea that begs for an “Ask not what your country can do for you …” reference, and one that is full of reason and pathos, invoking (as it does) both environmental and economic buzz-words, coming to conclusions that are tough to argue against.

I don’t mean for this post to be any sort of “love-letter” to Ray LaHood … but I do want high-speed rail.  I agree with every word LaHood says, when he claims that high-speed rail “will seamlessly integrate large metropolitan communities and economies through a safe, convenient and reliable transportation alternative.  It will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports.  It will reduce our reliance on oil as well as our carbon emissions.  And it will provide a much-needed boost to America’s hard-hit manufacturing sector during a time of economic struggle.”

How could it (high-speed rail) not deliver on at least two of those promises?  Consider:

  • Creating manufacturing (and other) jobs - unemployment is higher than it has been in my (and many of Gas 2.0 readers’) lifetime.  Someone will have to build the rails, blast the tunnels, construct the trains, etc.  This will be a long-term employment machine, as well, since others will need to clean the terminals, maintain the stations, repair and service the trains (and the power-plants serving the trains).  There will be jobs for graphic artists and web developers to promote the trains and educate the public and generate maps and apps and app maps … it just goes on and on.
  • Easing congestion – who would travel by car or plane on trips of less than 500 miles if there was an effective high-speed rail?  I certainly wouldn’t.

The last point LaHood makes is one, also, that should speak to some of the recent short-sightedness among the political reactionaries in Ohio and Wisconsin – and it’s a point that speaks to the idea of a future and a legacy:  many Americans my age (early-mid 30′s) can hardly imagine an America without interstate highways.  The interstates have – for better and for worse – shaped the American landscape for the last 40 years, and have altered our perceptions of distance and culture in ways that my generation simply can’t appreciate.  The interstates are the legacy of our parent’s generation, and the rails could be ours.

Nice-looking legacy, I think!

La Hood points to the notion of “legacy” again in his impassioned closing, which I’ve included below.

“When we look to America’s past, it can be easy to forget that America was never predestined to have the world’s best highways. Progress only became possible because generations before us dreamed big and built big – because they imagined, invested and sacrificed for the infrastructure on which we rely to this day.”

Like our parents and grandparents, we, too, must exercise the foresight and courage to invest in the most important infrastructure projects of our time. If we work together, a national high-speed-rail network can and will be our generation’s legacy.”

Well said, Ray.

You can click over to BizTimes for the original article:  by clicking here.

Source:  Orlando Sentinel, via BizTimes.


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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.



  • John Dough

    You say, “It will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports.  It will reduce our reliance on oil as well as our carbon emissions.”

    At most, HSR would alter the travel patterns of less than one percent of Americans and for less than one tenth of one percent of personal travel. There is no way that could result in any perceptible change in congestion, oil use or emissions. It’s decimal dust!

    It would be like trying to reduce energy use in your house by replacing one 15 watt nightlight with a 7 watt bulb.

    Do the math!

    • http://gas2.org Jo Borras

      @John: you say “At most, HSR would alter the travel patterns of less than one percent of Americans and for less than one tenth of one percent of personal travel.”

      Where did you get that 1% number? Where did you get the one tenth of one percent number?

      • http://Web John Dough

        http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_37.html

        In 2008, 0.11 percent of passenger-miles of travel was by Amtrak. If you want to include light rail, heavy rail and commuter rail, it goes all the way up to 0.66 percent.

        Even if you double, triple, quadruple or quintuple rail’s share of total travel, the impact on congestion, oil reliance and carbon emissions would be imperceptible. It’s mathematically impossible.

        Ray LaHood’s claims are the stuff fairy tales are made of.

        If HSR was successful in capturing as much as 50 percent of the market share in the busiest 10 percent of air corridors, that would still be only one half of one percent of total travel.

        (Air travel is 10.6 percent of total (see linked table). 0.106 x 0.50 x 0.10 = 0.0053 = 0.53%.)

        So, if you could double rail’s share (from 0.66 to 1.32) PLUS capture another 0.53% from air, you still would have less than 2% of total travel by HSR.

        And, if that could be accomplished (doubtful at best), it would be at a great price. If HSR was cheap, this debate would not be happening.

        • http://gas2.org Jo Borras

          You’re basing all of this on AMTRAK’s figures? Wow … that’s like the guy who predicted the total global market for computers was 5 (CEO of IBM Thomas Watson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Watson) back in the 1950′s.

          Serious high-speed passenger rail has never existed in this country, and where extensive railway systems HAVE been implemented (I’m looking at you, NYC) they have become the dominant form of transportation.

          Your numbers are laughable, sir. Give the people a product that works (as Amtrak famously does not, as evidenced by your numbers) and watch them come to you in droves.

  • http://Web dustin s

    i think the high speed rail is a excellent idea, consider the use in the NAWAPA North American Water And Power Alliance) project, it would carry people and supplies, and heavy loads like hydro electric turbines, to install all along the route of NAWAPA and could connect to Europe via the The Bering land bridge. if this project gets started it would create 4 million jobs in a few weeks.

  • John Dough

    Great idea! Then we can connect it to Hawaii and then Austrailia and then the Moon. That would create jobs fir every inhabitant of Earth and of the Moon.

    Are you really Dustin or are you Ray LaHood?

  • http://Web phoenix1

    LaHood is dreaming. This is another baby-boomer scheme to borrow more money from people who are too young to vote so they can build the world they’ve always dreamed of before the entire Federal budget is used to pay for social security and medicare.

    Anything short of a NY-LA supersonic subterranean maglev is a waste of time, money, and imagination. HSR is a 20th century daydream, and it needs to remain in the 20th century. HSR is too slow for long trips and too expensive and inconvenient for short travel.

    Trains are really fun to think about and high speed rail definitely feels like traveling in style, but you don’t spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a 20th century fantasy just so we can copy Europe and Japan. We are supposed to be leading, not looking at other nations with envious eyes (and empty pocketbooks).

    • http://Web phoenix1

      BTW I should say there are a few places where it would probably work. California and Texas are the best examples b/c they have space to run an HSR and they have major metropolises that are too far for convenient driving and too close for convenient air travel.

      Of course, if Uncle Sam tried HSR, he’d have to fund Boston, NY, Philly, DC line first. The project would break the bank and take government corruption to new highs. HSR would die before it ever got properly implemented in a location where it might work.

      • http://gas2.org Jo Borras

        Miami / Orlando / Tampa would work. Put Atlanta / Charlotte connections on that line, also. Chicago / Cleveland would be huge, as well.

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