Not-so-crazy train



In his State of the Union address, President Obama succinctly mentioned his backing of high speed rail development in the United States. He followed his words up on Jan. 28 when he announced the recipients of $8 billion in grants geared towards such rail building. Though it may be a small step, it is at least a step in the right direction.

It’s not even a surprise that our country has yet to upgrade our current railways. Unlike Toyota’s cars, we don’t keep accelerating forward. This country enjoys advancing just enough, only then deciding to rest until the situation arises again.

It is time for our high-speed railway idea to leave the station. All aboard this train of progress, because we are headed to the future.

Several reasons to break ground on this expansive project exist. Unfortunately, the few, but large, problems hamper any movement.

First, it is one mighty fine investment. Unlike in a bailout, the resulting job creation and saving and the tangible end-product are concrete and do not require interpreting the mystical Dow Jones. Financing would be a slight problem, with the debt surpassing astronomical and the deficit in the stratosphere. That is why this has to be a long-term investment. China has set aside $500 billion over the next twenty years for their rail system, so a scant $25 billion a year cannot possibly bankrupt us.

This endeavor’s end result would be an entirely updated infrastructure for passenger rail. Even the word infrastructure sounds useful. Consider what it has provided us with already. Internet connectivity, our old railway network, the interstate highway system, and our energy grid all came from nationwide projects such as this.

Two difficulties have arisen with connecting the entire country. One is that some states may conflict over connections. Thankfully, nine Midwestern states have already banded together to set Chicago as a hub for a regional network, shining some hope on smooth state collaborations. The other hindrance involves some regions not having the ability to support a station of their own. One proposed solution is a feeder bus solution where a bus system is set up specifically for connecting outlying regions with major railway stations.

For all the cities that do connect with the railway, they will receive a nice kick start to development with the increased tourism from passengers. However, public transportation would need to be in place to handle these visitors’ transportations needs within the city. This can be viewed as an obstacle or a much needed push for major cities to develop a functioning system. I’m looking at you, Birmingham.

Environmentally, this would help take vehicles off the road, planes out of the air, emissions out of the atmosphere and a bit of oil off our grocery list. In an ironic twist though, environmental concerns are slowing these railway plans down with required red tape studies of the rails’ effect on proposed land.

Then there is the eminent domain issue, where the government is required to provide just compensation for any private land taken for public use. This requires careful planning to minimize such issues and an effective public relations campaign to defend the government’s actions.

Obama, I am glad you mentioned your desire to construct high-speed rail in our country. I simply want to urge you not to step back and hope that others will make this new national railway happen.

This is only a pipe dream if you allow it to be one. Make it seem that this is in the near future if the state and national governments get to work. Also, do not oversell this as a solution to our unemployment or transportation woes. High speed rail will simply provide the country with a needed long-term infrastructure.

Wesley Vaughn is a sophomore majoring in public relations and political science. His column runs weekly on Monday.

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