High-speed trains: The cure for what rails us?

The ginormous economic stimulus package signed, sealed and about to be delivered by President Obama and a grudgingly bipartisan congress dedicates serious greenbacks to science and technology. That includes, of course, alternative energy research and sustainable mass transit. Most of the talk is about cars, given that the Big Three are currently on a life-support system with a near-flatlining EKG.

Something that doesn’t talked about much is high-speed rail. Lack of investment in rail, reports Jamble, an online magazine covering green travel, has left the U.S. decades behind Europe and Japan in modern rail infrastructure. Jamble wonders whether the funds going to improve our rail system will go to mod futuristic projects like the “Texas T-Bone” or a magnetic-levitation train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that claims potential speeds of 300mph (resulting in an 86-minute journey between the cities) or to, more realistically, improving Amtrak.

Americans like their cars, they like to fly, but not many of us bother with Amtrak, which isn’t that much cheaper than flying, a sloth compared to high-speed rail, has a lousy track record in terms of accidents (like the train that recently plowed into a garbage truck outside St. Louis) caused by poor maintenance and human error, and doesn’t boast an extensive enough network of lines and connections to make it a convenient option.

Otherwise known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak is hardly a source of national pride. Which is a shame, really. It promises lower emissions, further independence from foreign oil, faster travel times than cars offer, business investment and tourism revenue, and a nostalgic way of reconnecting with the American landscape—something we’ve utterly lost in the evolution from horse-and-buggy to 727s and expressways. Toss in the modern equivalent of a Pullman car, the glamour of the old streamliners like the Super Chief, and we’ll book a berth tomorrow.

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