More High-speed Light Rail, Pronto!

Reader Contribution by Staff

As much as I want a hybrid (a black Toyota Prius!) or, better yet, an all-electric car (a black Tesla Roadster!), I’m also constantly wishing for high-speed public transportation to whisk me (and thousands more) from the city where I live to the city where I work. The corridor of my westward commute would be a natural route for a light rail system. Ditto for the eastward commutes in northeast Kansas. Every so often, as I drive down the I-70 Turnpike or K-10, I try to imagine there will be some form of advanced high-speed public transportation, someday.

I grew up in Kansas City, where light rail has been hotly debated for at least a decade. I’ve also lived in the Washington D.C. area, where I was spoiled by the Metro. These days, I drive about 70 miles every weekday; when I lived in D.C., it would be pushing it to drive that much over two weeks. Of course, my example is minor compared to the gridlock many experience in larger urban areas; such as those who, for whatever reasons, have to drive for hours on end each day to get to jobs in Los Angeles or New York City.

So why the heck don’t we have more high-speed light rail in the works? An article in Wired asks this question, and offers a thorough yet succinct analysis of the issue. The writer, David Wolman, also underscores the importance of modern rail to creating more sustainable transportation: ‘If the country has a prayer of solving its traffic woes and creating a more efficient, environmentally sound infrastructure, we’ll need some first-rate, wicked-fast trains.’

Of course, high-speed light rail is far more pervasive in Europe, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is simple geography: Wolman points out that ‘s north-south axis is barely longer than the distance between New York and Chicago. OK, so maybe I’ll never be able to take a light rail ride from Kansas City to Minneapolis. But the experts quoted in the article suggest the new economics (read: higher gas prices, increasing pollution) of our current transportation paradigm and improved technology may make regional light rail realistic. There will be challenges, especially building the infrastructure.

But we can get there. Stop Ignoring Rail, America is a good read that outlines a step by step approach.

As with many sustainable transportation issues, California will be the proving ground for progress. In 2008, Wolman says Californians may vote on a bond measure to help fund a high-speed train that would run from Sacramento to San Diego (and jet you from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about two and a half hours). Hopefully Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will put his muscle behind the bond. Click here to watch a video that describes the proposed high-speed rail system in California.