Who doesn’t like a good story? Well, not quite fitting the typical story definition but a story nonetheless, is Ron Sheppard’s “High-speed rail won’t work” story (letter, actually) reprinted in today’s Fresno Bee.
So, “High-speed rail won’t work,” eh?
Try telling that to operators of HSR systems in Africa (Gautrain), France (TGV), Spain (AVE), Germany (ICE), Japan (Shinkansen), China; the list goes on. You’re right, Mr. Sheppard. It won’t work. Not.
In his letter, Sheppard writes, “If high-speed rail is really such a good profit-making venture, Amtrak and the private sector would have built a system by now.” There’s a good reason why America is lagging in this regard.
“In 1956, the same year that President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highways Act, [Japan’s then Minister of Transport, Shinhi] Sogo began planning a rail line without sharp curves or up and down grades that would permit streamlined, all-electric trains to run at extremely high speeds with utmost safety,” wrote Mark Reutter of the Progressive Policy Institute in his article “How America Led, and Lost, the High-Speed Rail Race.”
“Remarkably, the U.S. government gave Japan foreign aid – money purportedly going to an underdeveloped country – to build a rail infrastructure far superior to our own. Opened in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the first Shinkansen train traveled at a maximum of 125 mph. The latest-generation Shinkansen runs at 188 mph, and its ancestor is in a museum.”
Not only did the U.S. supply to Japan money, but technology to support those high-speed trains such as two-axle trucks (trucks here refer to railroad wheel assemblies) made by Budd Mfg. Co., dynamic or regenerative braking equipment made by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Div., and a then state-of-the-art computer built by Bendix used for controlling the line’s dispatching and signal systems, according to Reutter. We had the technological capability!
Meanwhile, Rails, Inc., President J.W. Madison emphasized: “After the attacks of September 11, 2001, our nation’s entire commercial air fleet was grounded for several days, leaving us almost entirely auto-dependent for our transportation needs, and adding to the trauma of the attacks themselves. During subsequent hearings, a passenger rail advocate told Congress that a good national transportation system should be like a three-legged stool, with road, rail and air systems serving as the legs. He stated, and Rails, Inc – New Mexico’s passenger rail action group – agrees, that in America, one of the legs is missing, although today perhaps it’s more of a stump. To further extend the analogy, make that a series of stumps.” (Source: “The Rocky Mountain Flyer: Filling In the Blanks Out West,” J.W. Madison, RAIL, Spring 2010, pp. 4-5).
I’d say it’s high time we embrace high-speed rail, maybe even rewrite the book on it, not write it off. We shouldn’t have to be playing catch-up but we are. Better late than not at all!