Transportation Diversity

My career has been one of helping people and businesses mitigate the risk of extreme weather and natural hazards.

While I am a train hobbyist, my advocacy of increasing passenger railroad in the U.S. is because I believe in transportation diversity as a form of national security. This story from Indonesia makes my point:
Volcanic dust-covered 737. European Pressphoto Agency
Seven airports are completely closed -- indefinitely -- because of the ongoing volcanic eruption. 

Fact: There are a number of semi-active volcanoes in the western United States. One day, likely during our lifetimes, one or more will erupt. When that occurs, it will cripple transportation hundreds, and maybe thousands, of miles away. There is no way the highway system will be able to handle the strain if the aviation system is shut down. 

Amtrak's current beat-up, way-too-infrequent service (outside California and the Northeast) doesn't even come close to being able to gear up if the aviation system is shut down. Plus, I sense a growing demand for an alternative to the airlines for trips of intermediate length. 

Yes, there are issues. The current freight railroads will not resume the pre-Amtrak era passenger service unless there is a solution to liability and other issues. For example, railroads are currently straining under the demand for freight service and slow freights and fast passenger trains on the same track inevitably conflict with each other. These are all solvable, but it is time for the nation to get going. 

Otherwise, we are going to have a real mess on our hands. 


  1. Sharing train tracks is a logistics issue. If commercial companies could find a way to deal with a major port shutdown (Katrina and New Orleans), they can solve the train tracks problem.

    The bigger challenge is the train stations themselves! You get there and then what? If public planners think "outside the box" and build an infrastructure around the train stations similar to what you have at every airport (rental cars, hotels, parking), then trains would be a very viable option for short distance travel (200 miles). Long distance train travel will never really catch on in this country without major infrastructure investment.


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