OP/ED: The American Future: High Speed Rail and Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure

This article originally published on NewPortRichey.Patch.com is Copyright 2012 Robert C Marlowe, and republished with permission.

Geeknote: Fair warning disclaimer– This is the most “political” GEEKNOTE I’ve ever written. I may make you mad, but I hope that I make you think.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. Two weeks ago today, I was completing a 48 hour transportation odyssey that included travel by private car, plane, taxi, commuter rail, bus, arial gondola, and boat. Things got even more interesting over the succeeding days and included two trips on the Hayate Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) between Tokyo and Hachinohe.

The Shinkansen trip was 368 miles, or about the distance from New Port Richey, Florida, to Macon, Georgia, and we made it in a hair over three hours or half the time it would take to make the trip New Port Richey from to Macon by car. The Shinkansen featured reserved seats with tons of leg room and a silky smooth ride at a cruising speed of 170 mph. The trains were full both ways. You can arrive at the station less than 10 minutes before the train is scheduled to depart and be comfortably in your seat before the train leaves the station.

Compare that to the six hours Travelocity says it would take to get from Tampa International to Macon by jet, not counting the two hours you need to show up early at the airport so you can make it through the security mess organized by the TSA. At eight hours, you are better off to drive.

Of course, we don’t have a bullet train option because our political leadership doesn’t think it would be popular. Right. The two Shinkansen trains I was on were packed.

It’s not just the Shinkansen either. The trip by train from the station across the street from our hotel in Narita to Narita International was five minutes. The trip by bus or taxi was 30 minutes. The times are fairly comparable to that between downtown Tampa and Tampa International. Unfortunately, we don’t have the option of express rail service from downtown Tampa to the airport. It is bus, taxi, and possible gridlock.

Japan is not the only country building a transportation infrastructure that puts ours to shame. Examples also include China, the EU and elsewhere.

There was a time in our country when we united together for the common good. President Roosevelt rallied us out of the Great Depression and through the Second World War. President Eisenhower promoted the development of the Interstate and Defense Highway system. President Kennedy challenged us to put a man on the moon within the decade and return him safely.

In each case, our federal government accomplished great things with the support of thousands of companies and millions of loyal Americans. We were all in it together.

Things have changed over the last decades and not for the better. President Reagan fed off the anti-government sentiment of the late 60s and 70s to let us believe the government was the problem rather than the solution. The 80s also saw the rise of a focus on personal greed rather than the common good. The rallying cry of “No New Taxes” and the corporate and Wall Street excesses that drove us into the Great Recession were a natural result. Today, it is every man for himself.

We are faced with a crumbling infrastructure. The bridges and highways started under the Eisenhower administration are now literally falling apart. We’ve been stuck in low earth orbit for nearly forty years. The leaders of our major corporations are making obscene multiples of their workers’ salaries, something unheard of in earlier times. We want more government services, but we are unwilling to pay for them. What are we to do?

Let me start with a few suggestions:

First, we should tar and feather any politician who promotes the lie that we can have everything we want without new taxes. The federal deficit is unsustainable in the long run and it is going to take a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes to fix the problem. Ditto at the local, county, and state levels. We have got to address both spending cuts and higher taxes to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve found ourselves in.

Second, we should immediately address our crumbling infrastructure. It will take a combination of fixing our airports, highways and bridges and developing alternatives, such as rail. It will also take revising how we pay for these. At the top of the list should be the gasoline tax, which is now a fixed amount per gallon rather than a percentage of the price. Make no mistake, fixing our infrastructure is going to cost money and that means taxes. Failing to fix our infrastructure all but guarantees that we are done as a world leader.

Third, we need to change the current policies that encourage corporate executives to lard their own incomes while sending jobs overseas. Each of us can help here by insisting on talking to an American when we call a company for customer service.

We also need to look at the immigration policies that force foreign citizens who come to the US for a college education to return to their own countries after graduation. If we are going to continue to educate the next generation of Indian computer geeks, let’s keep them here.

Fourth, we need to address the spiraling cost of health care in the US. Obamacare may not be THE answer, but at least, it is AN answer. Runaway insurance costs are making U.S. companies non-competitive and bankrupting individuals. As the entire rest of the industrial world proves, it doesn’t need to be this way. If our leaders don’t like Obamacare, then they need to propose a viable alternative to the status quo…and fast.

Finally, we need a challenge that makes us push the limits of our technology and abilities. The space race forced us to develop completely new technologies in order to get a man to the moon. An effort to stretch our reach into deep space is one possible challenge. Developing a Manhattan Project effort to harness fusion for commercial electrical generation would be another. Creating a network of high speed rail lines along the eastern seaboard, including Florida, would be another. None of these are going to happen anytime soon without the backing of government.

I am confident that America’s best days are ahead of us. To get there is going to require that we quit listening to the voices that would divide us. We need to unite as a country and insist that the status quo has got to go. It is time for all Americans to step up and answer JFK’s challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you – Ask what you can do for your country.”

I promise to get off my soap box next week and talk about some cool geek stuff.

Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.

Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.


(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)


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