Over the last year, we’ve seen the threefold nature of the danger that comes from our nation’s dependence upon individual automobiles for transportation:
1. We’ve seen how fossil fuel prices can rise quickly to economically unsustainable levels
2. We’ve seen how the automotive industry is incapable of remaining as a driving force in our economy
3. We’ve continued to see the climate crisis expand, with present and increasing impacts on the quality of our lives and the sustainability of our way of living
The lesson ought to be clear: Our dependence upon cars as a primary mode of transportation cannot be sustained. Economically and environmentally, there is a need for transportation alternatives.
High speed rail can be such an alternative. Building high speed rail can make transportation less costly, and can reduce our nation’s emissions of pollution linked to climate change. We’ve known this for quite some time, but where has the action been? Where are America’s high speed rails?
In effect, there are none. Even the Acela routes in the northeast U.S. are not equipped with rail lines that enable high speed trains to actually travel at high speeds.
Economically, the creation of a high speed rail system could provide just the boost the economy needs. Imagine if Detroit’s manufacturing capacity were shifted toward the construction of a new generation of engines and equipment to move Americans at high speed along efficient rail lines. That kind of project is what’s going to bring us jobs – but is that kind of project in the works?
In 2006, we were told that the Democratic majority in Congress would bring change. Then, in 2007 we were told that the Democratic Congress needed a Democratic President to actually bring change. So, now it’s 2009, and we’ve got both. If we’re to take the promises of the Democratic Part seriously, we ought to see Congress now moving forward with visionary reforms to overcome the problems of the last 8 years.
When it comes to high speed rail, that’s not what we’re seeing. Congress is not taking action on high speed rail at all. There is no legislation providing for investment in high speed rail lines in either house of Congress.
There’s a bill requiring security for rail lines. Congressman Gene Greene from Texas has even introduced legislation to make it more difficult to construct rail lines. But there’s no action at all from Democrats in Congress that would help to move our transportation infrastructure into a more sustainable future.
More generally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has introduced S. 5, the Cleaner, Greener, and Smarter Act of 2009, which sounds great, until you actually read the legislation. It’s nothing more than a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the President ought to do something to make America cleaner, greener and smarter.
Detroit’s automakers have received billions from Congress to keep them manufacturing cars. When are we going to see the Democrats in Congress move forward to invest in a transportation system that goes beyond 20th century thinking? Was environmental reform anything more for the Democrats than a campaign talking point?