Generally we car enthusiasts tend to look at other forms of transportation with a lip-curling disgust, often because we associate them with the people who hate our beloved cars and want to grind them into the internal components of their ridiculous sonic toothbrushes.
As fun as current interstate rail travel is, it’s vastly inefficient and too expensive. Recently this concept map of a US high speed rail system, designed by the California Rail Map group, has been making the blog rounds, and it has people talking, which was exactly the point. And admittedly, as a V8-loving, tire-immolating gas-head, I think it could be fairly amazing (except, of course, that they’ve screwed over anybody wanting to get from Kansas City to Denver, a very straight shot, guys. Come on).
The idea is, by no means, perfect, but high-speed rail could mean good things for gearheads. Here are the pros and cons from a car guy’s perspective:
Awesome: It would clear the roads.
Nobody likes those people who clog up the left lanes with oblivious cruising. I’m on a road trip, for crying out loud, and I’ve spent the last 200 miles precisely calculating my ETA if I remain at this cruising speed and stop for gas at the QT outside St. Louis. A city-to-city rail system wouldn’t eliminate daily driver traffic within cities or the hulking truck traffic on the roads. But just straining out the road trippers would make dealing with the other factors much easier.
Not Awesome: It’s monstrously expensive.
Estimates range from 500 billion to multiple trillion smackos. And while that seems marginal on a government budget, it pretty much eliminates the option for private sector operation. The government certainly couldn’t afford it now, and if they could, I’d rather have some tax relief.
Awesome: It would save the roads.
But speaking of money, DsOT would likely be able to cut back a bit on their road maintenance budgets. Granted, heavy trucks do more asphalt damage than your Miata, but fewer cars on the road would certainly alleviate the poor, bruised blacktop.
Awesome: It would mean lower airline prices.
Okay, okay, this one is great for everybody. Not just gearheads. But competition from trains could make flying cheaper. That means you’re that much closer to a weekend in Austin for F1. There. Car-related.
Not Awesome: It would encourage persecution.
“So you’re going to spend the next 20 hours polluting the air between here and New York, all so you can have your precious freedom? You know, nobody really neeeeeedsss to drive that far anymore. The electric rail system has a much smaller carbon footpr- HEY! WAKE UP!”
Awesome: Trains are just awesome.
Yes, we love cars for their independence. We love to stop at little abandoned gas stations and brainless tourist attractions. We like to take the same truck we just drove across three states and hoon it down a muddy back road without stopping. But that’s not the only reason we love cars. We geek out about the engineering. We get all tingly when we feel that raw mechanical power light up underneath us and rocket us toward the horizon at speeds they thought in 1850 would rupture organs and vaporize the soul into the aether.
In a train, all that can be had while you toot your way to the bathroom. The “high speed” in high speed rail isn’t just marketing, either. These trains get up to 220 mph. That’s two hundred and twenty freaking miles for every mile you draw breath on this earth. Few people on earth have ever gone that fast in a car. Most of us have only reached it at 30,000 feet. I’m all for whipping along at bicentennial speeds, watching the cows stream by like the star trails outside the Enterprise.
So what do you think? Would you travel by high speed rail if we had it here in the states? What would it take to get it? What pros and cons have I missed?