North Americans want high-speed rail

Make no doubt about it: In North America (and indeed globally), rail is hot. One need look no further than Metro Vancouver, and its three new commuter rail lines slated for the next decade, for proof.

High-speed rail, at least in theory, is hotter.

But since the industry’s glory days in Canada and the US, it’s North America that has become the laggard. Asia and Europe have embraced modern rail. And there’s no hint of a anything approaching the Shinkansen adorning the landscape between Los Angeles and New York, or Vancouver and Montreal.

Part of this is a function of culture: North America is still a car culture. But more importantly, it’s a function of geography. The continent is huge, and bullet trains are monumentally expensive to build and maintain.

They require densities that few regions can approach — except for metropolises like Paris or Shanghai. In the case of Japan, a variety of bullet trains serve the Tokyo-Osaka corridor — since the two megacities weigh in with populations of 32 and 19 million, repectively.

But at least people on -this- side of the Pacific, and Atlantic, are talking about it. Ontario and Quebec are once again talking about a fast train running between Toronto and Montreal — and extending as far as Quebec City in the east, and Windsor in the west.

Perhaps more realistically, there is also renewed talk in the state of California about a San Francisco to Los Angeles high-speed railroad. But a combination of environmental and economic factors could make this one achievable, as pointed out by the East Bay Express.

“It’s the perfect storm right now,” said San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, citing concern about global warming coupled with the rising cost of gasoline-dependent auto and air travel. As chairwoman of the legislative High-Speed Rail Caucus and one of the project’s two chief legislative advocates, Ma is actively recruiting support. “As I’m going around the state, people are sick and tired of sitting in gridlock and going to the airport two hours ahead of time,” Ma said. “I think voters will pass this overwhelmingly.”

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