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A hot topic within the transportation sector these days concerns the epic possibilities of a national network of High Speed Rail (HSR).  President Obama’s failed Jobs Bill dedicated $10 billion towards furthering the technology and implementation.  Here at Earthgarage we are wondering if a High Speed Rail program is this administration’s equivalent to Regan’s Star Wars fiasco or the success that keeps being herald as the future of our country?

According to the EU’s definition High Speed Rail Trains are “reasonably expected to reach sustained speeds of greater than 125 mph.” There are over 9,000 miles of tracks worldwide in operation today, with the European Union, China and Japan as the undisputed leaders of High Speed Rail.  Expansion of these systems has dramatically increased the flow of travel between cities to the collective advancement of their economies and personal convenience.

In the United States there is currently just one functional line.  Amtrak’s Acela Express travels between Washington D.C. and Boston and has been operational since 2000.  Considered a success, the train has been estimated to have captured half of air and rail passengers making the trip.  Annually Airplane travel contributes more than one billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Any opportunity available to lessen those emissions through electrified trains should be a priority of everyone looking to lower collective impact.

One doesn’t have to look hard to find plans for expansion.  Just earlier this month the U.S. High Speed Rail Association held a conference in New York City outlining the steps towards creating a web of rail lines around the country.  A four phase system has been established that will ultimately connect 80% of Americans in 25 years at the low cost of $500 billion (detailed map is located here).  While it is easy to dismiss futuristic ideas as well… futuristic, the nitty gritty of projects already in the works remains promising.

All of the technology to do this is available and the routes have been established.  Initially as connectors between adjacent cities, we should see High Speed Rails popping up from Los Angeles to San Fransisco, Portland to Seattle, Dallas to Houston, Orlando to Miami and Charlotte to Atlanta by 2015.  Not surprisingly, the Midwest has the most ambitious plans for the upcoming future.  The Mid-West High Speed Rail Association will build four 220 mph bullet train routes to put 43 million people within 3 hours of Chicago.  By 2030 a complete restructuring of our system could connect the entire country.

The benefits of the these programs will be substantial.  Picture a world where you could go to work in Manhattan and still make a lunch meeting in Boston without ever leaving the electric grid.  The Dutch are no stranger to this.  Using High Speed Rail, the trip from Amsterdam to the Hague has been reduced to that of a typical American commute, an edge for productivity.

One major step towards climbing out of this recession concerns increasing our efficiency.  As a service based economy, the quicker that we can move around, the more competitive we will become.  High Speed Rail offers a solution that not only saves time but drastically reduces our emissions as well (even more so if we shift combustion in power plants to green alternatives 1 2 3).  Sustainable transportation begins with lowering our reliance on the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels for travel.

Of course, such an agenda requires leadership and public support for progress.  Unfortunately, given the sorry state of Congress and the degrading nature of the Occupy movement, neither of those options are available right now.  It is up to individuals to learn more about their local agenda and how they can assist in spreading awareness of these efforts.

You can find a listing of your State’s plan here. Please comment.

Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet