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Amtrak and mag-levity

By enelson
Monday, April 9th, 2007 at 5:40 pm in Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), driving, Environment, Freeways, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving.

ready, set ... GO!! 

As I noted earlier, the wheeled speed record set by France’s train à grande vitesse (for you non-francophones, that’s “high-speed train”) got everyone talking, especially Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who was onboard when the train hit 357 mph.

The Scramento Bee’s Buzz column quibbled over the San Francisco legislator’s claim to have been aboard the world’s fastest train:

“The world’s fastest train remains a Japanese bullet train that hit 361 mph in 2003 using magnetic levitation. And remarkably did so without a single California legislator on board.”

What was missing in the press release was the world’s fastest “wheeled” train. I think that we may have to come up with something other than “train” to describe something that floats on a magnetic cushion, although if we’re fine with mattresses being called “Sleep Train,” maybe it’s OK.

My take: Be it TGV or Shinkansen-lev, it’s all 300 mph more than the ACE train.

Over my sans cheese sandwich lunch, I noticed the editorial page of the New York Times devoted nearly half of its letters to a subject near and dear to my Capricious heart: The daily duel between Amtrak and the freight lines that control most of the nation’s train tracks.

I quite identify with Janet Johnston of Bellingham, Wash., who talks of fighting her way down the interstate in spite of the lovely views and relaxed ambience of the train to Seattle:

Why? Because the length of the train ride is often double or more the time scheduled, and I cannot depend on Amtrak getting me there in time for a concert or meeting.

In these days of crammed highways, high gas prices and big environmental concerns, this simply doesn’t make sense and can’t be allowed to continue.

Another Washington State resident rushes in to defend the lumbering freight trains that always seem to be in the way:

But isn’t the same thing true of freight trains? Freight trains use two to four times less oil per ton than semi rigs. Given that 69 percent of our oil consumption is for transportation, the lesson seems clear.

We need to build a whole new infrastructure for transportation, and half measures will waste precious time as we enter the downside of the peak oil curve.

One writer writes off Amtrak as a dead horse, but I come down somewhere in the middle on this. I don’t think great train service is going to remove people from their cars by itself. In the time it will take to say, electrify passenger lines along all of California’s existing passenger routes and maybe build a connection beetween Bakersfield and Burbank, the torture of that future traffic will force people to use the service.

<small>Amtrak engines in Seattle linked from www.trains.com</small>

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