Pictured: Amtrak train on the Acela Express service, which runs from Boston to Washington.
By John Buterbaugh
I was riding around in my parent’s car and somehow the topic of Richard Hanna, a former Republican congressman from the Utica area, came up. My dad’s support for him has grown as he has flown with him on a plane. He’s learned he is a common-sense guy who makes enough money not to owe anyone favors. He thinks he should run for Governor of New York. However, he said the only downside of him would be that he wouldn’t support funding high-speed rail construction in New York state (even though the federal government would provide most of the funding, if at all). My dad thinks this would be a cool idea, and I agree. We disagreed on how feasible it is.
Supporting high-speed rail will be met with a lot of popular opposition. First, it’s not a sexy idea — people find social justice or terrorism far more interesting. Second, people will complain that billions of their tax dollars will be wasted on a system that people won’t even use and will take too long to build. Third, people like the independence of driving around a car because they don’t have to stop for anybody and they can go exactly where they want. They don’t see the need for trains. That’s how most commuters in upstate New York and most of America like to travel. There is one thing most commuters don’t like — they generally don’t like driving to New York City and having to pay a premium for parking. It’s a pain. People in Long Island think you’re crazy if you drive into the city. The Long Island Railroad is the busiest commuter railroad in North America in large part because of its convenience.
If high-speed rail is going to happen, New York City will have to be a part of the equation. I don’t know what the number of people who would start using a train would be if it were high-speed. If high-speed rail is to work, it would have to connect the Megalopolis that is Boston through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington. These cities have enough commuters to support this system — businesspeople and government workers can travel a lot. It would make airfare cheaper between these cities due to the increased transportation competition.
But I don’t know if high-speed rail is the answer. Is our goal to get people to places faster to show we can improve our infrastructure or discourage traffic, sprawl, and parking annoyances? If it’s the former, maybe we need high-speed rail. We put a man on the moon after all. We can put pieces of metal on the ground that makes trains go faster.
However, if it’s the latter, maybe we just need to make riding a train more pleasurable and give people more reasons to ride. Perhaps free Wi-Fi would do that. Maybe having a free movie would be nice. Maybe if the trains arrived on time. If people started enjoying trains more and had some entertainment to pass the time, we might not even need high-speed rail. It would be a lot less expensive, and we could accomplish the same goal.