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Monday, July 25, 2005

Weaning a Population off of Oil

That's a photo of the Eurostar, or more popularly known as the "Chunnel". The photo is from yours truly just before I got on. It was my first time taking a so-called "bullet train", or a train that went over 100 miles per hour. While traveling the sensation is not one of high speed, with only the occasional ear popping to tell you that you are dropping in elevation at a high rate of speed.

Right now the Chunnel could hardly be called overwhelmingly popular, despite its novelty. Both times I took the train to and from Paris, I was next to or near an empty seat. And from what I have read, the Chunnel's competition of hovercraft, ferries, and airplanes still beat it in profitability. I think in the long run however, the Chunnel will beat all of them.

As fuel prices inevitably rise, since all of the Chunnel's competition comes from gasoline using vehicles, the cost to use such services will increase by necessity. The Chunnel runs on electricity.

Is there a use for such a train in America? Amtrak, the only American passenger train line has attempted to making a high speed train route from Boston to Washington DC. At last word, the train's brake system has malfunctioned and the train is down indefinitely. However, the train did have some measure of popularity.

If gas prices rise dramatically in an emergency situation, governments will need to be able to continue to move their citizens rapidly in order to keep the economy moving. Delays in travel mean lost working hours and lost profits. If there is a fallback system such as a high speed train that will enable people to travel from one city to another without using gasoline, this will compensate for some of that loss due to a gas price increase.

Some will argue that there is no market for a high speed train in many parts of the country. If the train route is created, a market might come into existence. Others will argue that a train system should make a profit. My answer to that is that no public transportation system in the world makes a profit, and most probably lose money. But part of being in a modern economy is having governments willing to subsidize their capitalist economies with transportation systems that work, even at a loss. Though the transportation system might lose money, the addition of taxes collected from successful businesses and individuals will make up for the loss. The lack of an impact from a gasoline shortage, and continued income from taxation of these individuals allows a nation to make more money and be competitive with other countries. The same people who argue Amtrak should be profitable, argue for a larger military. No military is profitable, and the arguments for a larger military, primarily to keep our interests from others, are similar to the arguments for having a healthy public transportation system. Indirectly through taxation, we all benefit.

Now if they could just eliminate that nasty little bombing threat, British public transportation would be perfect.

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