Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Supposed to Happen

That's not a question.

Many pundits are reporting the demise of High Speed Rail (HSR).  The reasons given are many, but the most prominent are the fact that Republicans are now in control of the House and of many state governments, and the related fact that most, if not all states, are going to take a hard, second look at what is going to be spent for HSR, both by the states and by the federal government.

I'd like to add a third main reason, and then go out on a limb.  The third main reason is the way that the Obama administration threw the funding helter skelter at so many different and disconnected HSR projects.

The limb, which I am now sawing off from the trunk side, is my belief that this did not kill HSR.  The facts just slowed it down a bit; and that is a GOOD THING.

Although some of the projects already well into or past the planning stage appear to be well thought out, from an engineering standpoint, no good thing can come of the fact that they are not designed to mesh, or in most cases even to connect.  Railroading learned its lesson in the 19th century, when the lack of a standard gauge and standard time became an obvious hindrance to the growth of business.  It's only because Private Enterprise Railroading has little to no say in these projects that they are so disconnected, or so I hope.  In any case, most freight railroads have taken a dim view of these projects, for now; and that, too, is thanks to Uncle Sam.

We have many visionary leaders in the railroad industry today.  I would like to see them come forward with plans for HSR that are national in scope and standardized from an engineering standpoint.  If we are going to use existing right of way, then the plans should say how this will hold up 20 or 30 years from now.  If we are going to pay the way for new rights of way, then we should commit to an engineering design that is so forward looking that there will be no reason to worry about how it will fit with the current system.  Maybe it will be railroading, but not railroading, something new and unique that derives from railroading only in the way that a covered hopper derives from a covered wagon. 

Yes, it'll cost money.  Our NOW, NOW, NOW mentality suggests that we would rather throw billions at it now than spend millions a year for, say, 60 years, and get something really great.  But the former would be a pity and the latter a blessing.  The push for HSR initiatives and funding NOW, in Congress and elsewhere, will be a pity.  Let's think on it, design for the future, and when the economy is back on its feet, we will be ready to build something we'll all be proud of.

©2011 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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