Rail envy

I admit it, I’m fed up with the lack of a decent infrastructure or viable alternatives in Northern Illinois. Whilst I am careful not to lump the entire of North America into the “lack of suitable infrastructure to meet 21st century needs” category, and am confining this complaint to the area I currently live in, I suspect that things do not get much better elsewhere in North America. The problem is that there is an almost total reliance on cars for as many journeys as possible, with the alternative of taking the plane for longer journeys, and little else in the way of viable or practical alternatives if you wanted one.

Take a typical intercity route as a way of illustration, two principle cities with large populations; if I want to go from Chicago to New York, driving will take me at least 13 hours (without stopping), or 78 minutes flying time (this would not include the horrifics of getting to and from respective airports, waiting, security, check-in, etc). This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the available choices, it just isn’t good enough to provide only two alternatives, and only one real practical choice, when travelling  between two principle cities within a single country  in the 21st century travel; this is without even getting in to the whole argument around alternatives to oil using transport and the whole area of long term supply and cost.

Consider then an article I recently found in Popular Mechanics, it showcases the fastest modes of transport in the world that are in day-to-day use. Take standard, off the shelf technology that can provide you with an average speed of 200mph or 320km/h. The distance from Chicago to New York is 720miles or 1159 km (in a straight line); you could make this journey in around 4.5hours with a few stops along the way, and assuming you could sustain an average of 200 mph (which is possible using TGV technology); this is around the total time it would take you to perform the complete journey by air, including security, check-in, journey to/from airport etc. Providing such an alternative and assuming you manage to provide an attractive journey time could be attractive and maybe have such an impact on long distance travel in US as it did in Spain or Germany

I doubt whether I’ll get to see even the first stages of such a project during my stay here in US but I can, at least, see how much benefit there would be if such an intercity project was completed. Similarly projects in urban conurbations would be equally beneficial and this would be the key to making longer distance project successful. Giving people a fast, reliable and frequent service to get from the suburbs to downtown, even across the suburbs to the transport hubs would change attitudes and I would would argue change the way that people live – but this is a different argument for a different time.  In the mean time I read such articles as The World’s 5 Fastest Trains You Can Ride Right Now with a certain sense of envy.