High speed rail in the U.S.

I didn’t get a toy train like the other kids. I got a toy subway instead. You couldn’t see anything, but every now and then you’d hear this rumbling noise go by.
~Steven Wright

Supposedly “they” are trying to bring high speed train travel to the U.S.

And if they do, it’s going to fail.

For one, it’s not ecologically friendly. Trains do not run on hopes, dreams, and unicorn farts. And I highly doubt existing tracks or highways will be torn up in order to place these high speed rail lines. More habitat will be destroyed, degraded, or fragmented.

For two, who’s going to use it? Ooooooo, look a rail line that connects San Antonio to Dallas via Austin! Except that it’s a two hour drive to get to the nearest rail hub (Austin) from my place. It would be faster and probably cheaper to just say “fuck that” and drive straight to DFW.

And if I did take the train to Dallas, how would that go over?

Let’s just assume I live in Austin and that I’m able to take a bus to the rail line. I get to Dallas, and the rail line puts me off in downtown. I want to get to a friend’s apartment (not that said friend lives in this particular apartment anymore, but we’re assuming I live in Austin, so let’s just assume this, too). So I get onto the DART train in downtown Dallas and get off six or seven miles from the apartment. Here’s an interesting conundrum. I could have my friend pick me up, or I could theoretically (with a spare hour or two) walk, or possibly take a bus, provided there is a bus stop within a decent distance of his apartment.

So we’ve got bus fare to train, train fare to Dallas, DART fare to closest station, and theoretical bus fare to closer to the apartment. And the hours this will take, well, I’d probably be better off time-wise and money-wise to just fucking drive to Dallas. Not to mention that I don’t fucking live in Austin, so in order to even reach the rail line I’d have to drive anyway.

American cities were built for cars, not public transport. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it, but it does need to be taken into account when planning for these types of projects. Maybe if we already had a solid public transport system in place this could help. But this isn’t going to be as popular as they’re hoping. Americans are wedded to their cars, and this country is too big and too spread out. It would take a major overhaul in both public mentality and transportation to make moving people at this scale feasible.

We should be focusing on intra-city transport, not inter-city transport. Once we get intra-city transport working well, we can start linking them. But for now, people are just going to be confused. Yes, I know how to get from bus to train to DART to bus and not get lost. A lot of people don’t. Many people don’t, in fact. Put them in a strange city and tell them to take the bus system and they’ll freak. “I don’t know where the buses are or where they go!”

I have to agree with John Dvorak of No Agenda. This isn’t about moving people. (Dvorak’s excellent rant begins at 70:30.)

In short, if this ever gets off the ground it’s going to be a flop as far as moving people is concerned.

One Response to “High speed rail in the U.S.”

  1. Dargon Says:

    Actually there was a bus stop directly in front of my old apartment. Mind you, the bus only came buy every hour or so.

    In any case, I must agree with you with regards to intra-city transportation before inter-city transportation. I have lived in Dallas a good portion of my life, and only some of the suburbs even have public transit. Mesquite and Arlington, two of the suburbs I have lived in, do not have public transit, and those that do, well, there is quite a wait between buses. Trains are fast, but buses aren’t. And those trains are only useful if you are starting and ending where they are.

    That’s why the places with high speed rail work. Because they have good inter-city transit. They have good, efficient bus routes, train routes, and even cities that are pedestrian and bike friendly. Sadly, as you have said, most US cities are built around the car. There’s a lot of intra-city infrastructure that needs to be built or modified before high-speed rail becomes effective at moving people.

    Then again, as Dvorak said, it ain’t about people.

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