Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

Oh the Joys…and the Shame.

3-fast-trainOn a morning like today, after one has been crammed into an E train that looks more like a cattle car, after getting off a bus at Port Authority and deciding that a 42nd St cross town bus is a very bad idea, it is hard to be appreciative of our regional transportation. Even certain upgrades make us cynical. The real time displays on MTA subways and buses, Double Decker NJ transit trains-and buses?- all seem to excite us for a moment, but then we realize that this is not new technology or logic even. We have actually gotten worse at moving people it seems.

But in his most recent article for GOOD magazine, Ben Jervery-author of the Big Green Apple guide and the co-creator of the new SustaiNYC re-blog-takes to the tracks of the rest of the nation. With standard delays of 6 hours and abrupt ends to engineers’ shifts that cause the train to stop dead in its tracks until new engineers are driven to the train, our regional transport is nothing to scoff at. In a culture that does not value mass transit, we are golden.

But what type of standards are these? According to Jervey’s article, even our definition of high-speed is lower, perhaps to accommodate our poor performance. In the U.S., high speed is 36 mph slower than Europe’s 124 mph. Our shining star, the Acella only hits 150 mph for about 18 miles. Meanwhile, the French TGV hits 200 mph at certain points. My favorite factoid here, the Japanese Shinkansen has been moving at 130 mph since 1964. Oh the shame.

Now that gas prices have hit all time highs and will remain there, its time to rethink the way we move people. Airplanes and private car were the in-vogue transit choices that partially led to the disarray of the train. Now that the airline industry is in shambles and GM closed 4 plants this week, it is time to wake up from this trainless slumber. Not that I am promoting an entirely unregulated injection of the free market here, but maybe a few more train companies and a bit of competition will help get us get closer to the days when 5 star chefs had their kitchens on trains.


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