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Train in Vain? NJ is the Caboose of Railway Innovation

in VIEWPOINTS by

carl fedorko as I see itNew Jersey desperately needs high speed trains. More efficient passenger rails will result in less cars on the road to cause traffic and pollute, as well as reduce American dependence on fossil fuels. Less stressful, cleaner, and cheaper: this can be a reality if New Jersey (and America) embraces high speed rail.

On January 22, 2013 James S. Russell, Bloomberg News Architecture Critic, wrote “Dollars spent that get Americans out of cars will ease traffic, save money, reduce pollution, slow global warming and make us less vulnerable to volatile oil oligarchs.”

The fastest and most efficient way to get Americans out of cars is a fast, clean, well-connected rail system. Currently only one train in the country, Amtrak’s Acela Express, routinely travels over 100 miles per hour. It only runs between Boston and Washington, D.C., (the Northeast Corridor) and is limited to a maximum speed of 150 mph. It has achieved 165 mph in Amtrak sponsored test runs to determine whether or not the existing track can handle regular train operation at such speeds.

That may sound fast, but it’s only allowed to operate at that speed for a total of 28 whole miles in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Compared to trains in countries that fully embrace high-speed rail, the Acela moves in slow motion. French trains circa 1954 could do 150 miles per hour. Modern Chinese, Japanese and French trains easily top 300 miles per hour.

Railroads built the West back when Americans dreamed big. The idea of rapid transit without leaving the ground is not a new idea in the US. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the High Speed Ground Transportation Act. Part of Johnson’s Great Society initiative, the Act authorized 90 million dollars in support of proposed high speed rail infrastructure. Adjusted for inflation, that’s 667.4 million dollars (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator.)

While signing the Act President Johnson said ”In recent decades, we have achieved technological miracles in our transportation. But there is one great exception. We have airplanes which fly three times faster than sound. We have television cameras that are orbiting Mars. But we have the same tired and inadequate mass transportation between our towns and cities that we had 30 years ago.” Sadly. this quote rings as true today as it did in 1965.

As a result of the bill, Metroliner trains began service between New York and Washington, D.C.in 1969. The Metroliner trains could reach a top speed of 120 miles per hour and averaged 90.1 mph en route. That’s a higher average speed than the multi-billion dollar Acela Express running today. So why did the US spend billions on new trains just to limit their speed so much that the trip from Manhattan to D.C. takes longer in 2013 than it did in 1969?

In New Jersey, Acela is allowed to reach speeds up to 135 miles per hour, meaning that it barely outpaces Kingda Ka, the fastest roller coaster in the state at 128 miles per hour. If people demand such speeds from entertainment, isn’t it about time they expect more expeditious and efficient means of transportation?

Acela could theoretically get you from NY-Penn Station to Union Station in D.C in 96 minutes. It actuality takes closer to 3 hours. This is utterly unacceptable, considering the cost of an Amtrak Acela ticket tops 150 dollars. The lack of a fairly inexpensive and fast mode of transportation in the US makes it clear why so many Americans drive.

For those concerned about cost, I will concede that investment in infrastructure can be costly. We are talking numbers too big to imagine: billions of dollars. Even worse, the benefits of that type of investment aren’t immediately palpable. But if not now, when?

Such investment would bring 40,000 annual construction jobs to our region over the next 25 years (one million total) and 7,000 new permanent jobs, according to an article by Lucy Vandenberg written last year for NJSpotlight.com.

The State is already a massive hub for travel and industry. Existing infrastructure links New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and beyond with the 8 million New Jerseyans who wish they would get out of the left lane. Imagine a high speed rail line running to the shore, thus thinning out the Benny traffic from the Turnpike and Parkway every summer.

It’s time to embrace change and be a leader, New Jersey. Roadway improvements are guaranteed to continually inconvenience you. You deserve better. Our State deserves better. Our Country deserves better.

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