Like many twenty-somethings, I’ve spent a good deal of time backpacking across Europe in the coach class of countless high-speed rail cars. It’s great to pass time looking out the window at stunning scenery, plotting out a plan of attack for the next destination or trying to avoid sitting next to the smelly guy in the back. Many times, I was the smelly guy….but that is beside the point.
The point is that the journey was just as memorable as the destination. I do not have this same sentiment, however, when I travel around the U.S. When I act as a tourist in my home country, I find it extremely stressful, time-intensive, and non-personable. Traveling in individual cars on 10-lane freeways, dealing with parking and trying to catch flights in airports that are far away from civilization can be quite the ordeal. Ask any foreigner who has traveled in the U.S. and they will concur.
This is about to change, however, with the implementation of high-speed rail corridors across the country. In the recently passed stimulus bill, over $8 billion is allocated for the development of high-speed rail in the U.S. – the most ever allocated for rail at one time. In addition, the Obama administration is proposing a five-year $5 billion high-speed rail grant program in their 2010 budget proposal.
Think of the possibilities! High-speed rail will allow people to park the car and take the train, read a book, look out the window, and heck, maybe even have a conversation with the person next to them. It has the possibility to create a sense of community and camaraderie that is absent in our current travels.
And talk about a sustainable business opportunity! Anyone who has ridden the rail in Europe knows that many of the train stations are tourist attractions in and of themselves. Surrounding these stations are grocery stores, apartments, hotels, tourist information offices and restaurants. Anything that anyone could possibly want is probably located within a square mile of the station. These transit-oriented developments allow people to live, work and play all in the same area. More importantly, these developments minimize their residents’ carbon footprint by reducing their Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) – a main indicator of transportation’s contribution to global warming. All this while still allowing Europeans the mobility they need to obtain essentials – such as baguettes or wiener schnitzel.
Each of the existing or new stations throughout the U.S. can be upgraded to become worthy, welcoming points of entry to cities along the routes. With progressive, green-building zoning regulations, local developers can create transit-oriented developments surrounding rail stations so local residents who take the train to work will not have to travel far from home. Regional and local transportation systems can connect to hub rail stations to ensure that people will be able to reach more local destinations once off the rail. All this will reduce VMT within the areas served and could reduce carbon emissions by 1/3rd compared to automobile transportation .
I’m interested to hear what others have to say about this. Would you be willing to ride the rail instead of driving to work every morning? What factors are most important to you when making this decision? Would you be willing to sit next to the smelly guy in the back knowing that you are reducing carbon emissions? I know I sure would…..
Ryan Broshar is a first-year MBA student at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business in Boulder, Colorado, focusing on sustainable business and renewable energy. Having migrated to Colorado from a farm in Iowa via New Zealand, Patagonia and Western Europe, Ryan has a unique perspective when it comes to issues in sustainability. Once he completes his MBA degree, Ryan hopes become a sustainability consultant or start a renewable energy company. He can be reached at Ryan.Broshar@Colorado.edu