Ever since the United States gave the bulk of their transportation duties to the highway system, with heavy subsidies, rail transportation has become comparatively expensive. For all others uses, besides long distance industrial uses, the highway has taken the reigns.
In the early 20th century, not long after this dominion, it was revealed to Americans that owning his or her own home was not only a right, but also a responsibility to liberty. This became part of the “American Dream,” and it was spread far and wide with the help of the single occupancy automobile and later, the GI Bill. A new philosophical paradigm, the suburban home and sprawl, changed the habitation structure of the country to one of a very disperse nature.
This rapid and sparse method of development is not necessarily a bad thing for nation building. However, for rail travel it was death. Highways were unfairly subsidized and suburban development made rail travel rather inefficient. Even though rail travel can transport much larger loads, longer distances, and for less, structural suburbanization in America made it a very tough sell.
Fast forward to today; the year 2011.
Oil prices are on the rise. This rise reflects a combination of economic normalization and a dwindling supply, thus the rise will not stop. Even with the use of subsidies, the suburbs are fast becoming unfeasible. The people who live here are screaming out for an alternative to the currently oppressive cost of travel.
Rail is the much-needed alternative to the automobile. The infrastructure has been neglected for so long that large parts are overgrown with vegetation and can only support low-speed transit, but there is also the issue of density. The denser an area is, the more efficient trains become. But even if it were inefficient in some areas, rail travel is far from prohibitively expensive. If the vast subsidies given to highways, oil, and suburbanization were given to rail travel, it would become competitive. Who knows, it may so much so that it would become “the way,” and diminish the power of the oil and automobile lobbies.
Should we re-envision our structural future with a more intelligent infrastructure? Are there any transportation methods more efficient than trains? Please respond with your thoughts.