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  1. #1 Opinion:Trains Are For Tourists 
    Senior Member
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    Jan 2009
    Central Florida
    Trains Are For Tourists

    When I went to Europe, I loved to ride the trains, especially the French TGV and other high-speed trains. So President Obama's goal of building high-speed rail in the United States sounded good at first.

    But when I looked at the details, I discovered that while high-speed rail may be good for tourists it isn't working very well in Europe or Japan.

    Japan and France have each spent as much per capita on high-speed rail as we spent on our Interstate Highway System. The average American travels 4,000 miles and ships 2,000 ton-miles per year on the interstates. Yet the average resident of Japan travels only 400 miles per year on bullet trains, while the average resident of France goes less than 300 miles per year on the TGV and these rail lines carry virtually no freight.

    Throughout the world and throughout history, passenger trains have been used mainly by a wealthy elite and have never given the average people of any nation as much mobility as our interstate highways.

    Moreover, the interstates paid for themselves out of gas taxes and other user fees, while high-speed rail requires huge subsidies from general taxpayers.

    Personally, I would much rather ride a train than drive anywhere. But I have to admit that automobiles are the most egalitarian form of travel ever invented. Throughout the developed world, people of all income levels regularly travel by car, while only a small number of people regularly ride trains. For example, the average American drives for 85 percent of their travel; the average European 79 percent not much difference.

    The environmental benefits of high-speed rail are also questionable.

    President Obama's plan actually calls for moderate-speed rail: 110-mph passenger trains sharing tracks with freight trains. These moderate-speed trains will mostly be diesel-powered, and for safety purposes they will be heavy. By the time these trains start operating, both cars and airplanes will use less energy and emit far less greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the moderate-speed trains.

    True high-speed rail trains moving at 200 mph or faster requires costly dedicated tracks: a national network would easily cost more than a half-trillion dollars. Considering that both airplanes and cars are getting more fuel-efficient all the time, the environmental costs of constructing these lines will never be recovered in any operational savings.

    True high-speed trains are electrically powered, but if that electricity comes from fossil fuels, it will produce as much greenhouse gas, per passenger mile, as autos or planes. As we develop more renewable electricity, we would do better to dedicate that power to plug-in hybrids than to build expensive but little-used train lines.

    We have a choice between a transportation system that everyone uses and that pays for itself, or one that requires everyone to pay through their taxes but that is used by only a small elite. Which is the better symbol for the America that President Obama wants to rebuild?
    "Because we're a great nation, our challenges seem complex; it will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principals and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours." -Reagan
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  2. #2  
    Senior Member ironhorsedriver's Avatar
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    Sep 2008
    Coal Fields of WV
    I disagree that trains are only for tourists. A whole lot of rural Americans use trains, mainly for short haul city to city travel. Trains can be a viable transportation alternative. But, a lot of improvement in the US infrastructure needs to be made. Currently, passenger trains share track with freight trains. The proplem with the current method is that there is a high volume of freight, with dwindling infrastructure. During the 70's and 80's, most freight RR's reduce track, taking out a lot of double track and placing siding's along a mostly single track system. Where double track is still in place is mostly in high density urban areas or in spurts of a few miles at a time.
    Our current passenger system is also working with equipment that is aging. Locomotives are getting worn out by mileage, cars are in need of repair. The problem is, not enough inventory to take them off line for overhaul. Also, no passenger system in the world goes without subsidies, ours is just given peacemeal subsidies. The airline industry recieves much more in subsidy than rail, just hidden in other payoffs, such as credits, airport use fees, and mail subsides, etc. Highways recieve huge subsidies, and in major urban areas, is still way over capacity.
    In some major urban markets, rail is actually faster than air or auto. Airlines regularly use Amtrak in the North East Corridor to transport their crews. Our current system is flawed, but could easily, become a viable transportation alternative. Trouble is, it takes money. High speed rail is not the answer though, just a reliable, consistant carrier.
    This is a vast country, with many areas only served by rail for their public inter-city system. I think that it is a better use of money than bailing out corrupt corporations.
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  3. #3  
    Power CUer noonwitch's Avatar
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    Oct 2008
    Warren, MI
    I took Amtrack to NYC from Detroit in 1990. It was a very pleasant trip. On the ride out, we didn't get a sleeper car, so we got to know a lot of people from hanging out in the club car all night. I went with a colleague to attend a youth conference that some of our delinquent wards were participating in.

    We met some native NYC people, who gave us the lowdown on the cheap places to eat and one of them checked things off in my travel guide for us. We supervised a youth group in the food car for about a half hour, so that the chaperones could have a quick meeting to discuss what they were going to do with the kids once they got to their destination. It was a lot of fun, plus, you still get to see the landscape of the area you are travelling through.
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  4. #4  
    Senior Member stsinner's Avatar
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    Feb 2009
    Personally, I feel handicapped without my car. I want to be able to go anywhere on a whim, not depend on the schedule and destination of someone else.. I won't even carpool for this reason.

    I've ridden the train a couple of times, and it sucks having to have your guard up against pick-pockets and drunks puking on you or your wife getting groped.. Trains may have been the transportation of the elite throughout history, but today they seem much lower class...

    In my opinion you only take the train if you can't afford to drive to your destination. Maybe it's just because I live 35 minutes from any public transportation-there's no buses in my town and one taxi, but public transportation does not appeal to me at all. It feels to me like you're succumbing to either the environmentalists or the socialists when you take a train.. Like cattle. Socialist countries have lots and lots of trains......because they populace is collectively too poor to afford cars.. Perhaps Obama will get his wish.
    Obama-if you're being run out of town, get out in front and pretend that it's a parade!!!
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  5. #5  
    I like trains a lot. Bunches of us take the trains all winter long to go skiing. It's way better than driving. The problem out where I live is that you'd have to have hundreds of miles of track to really get anywhere. Once you leave the Front Range area, there's just a whole lot of nothing much until the next city or resort.
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  6. #6  
    Power CUer
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    May 2008
    Quote Originally Posted by stsinner View Post
    I've ridden the train a couple of times, and it sucks having to have your guard up against pick-pockets and drunks puking on you or your wife getting groped.. Trains may have been the transportation of the elite throughout history, but today they seem much lower class...

    In my opinion you only take the train if you can't afford to drive to your destination.
    You seem to be talking about subway-type trains. Amtrak is fine. I take it every time I go to New York; I can't drive it as fast, and I can't even fly it as fast, once you deal with all the ins and outs of airport arrival, parking, security, boarding, and getting into the city from LaGuardia.
    "Today, [the American voter] chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be." - H.L. Mencken
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  7. #7  
    CU's Tallest Midget! PoliCon's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    Pittsburgh PA
    If trains are so wonderful - step aside and let the free market work. Why do we need the government to subsidize them?
    Stand up for what is right, even if you have to stand alone.
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