Thursday, May 22, 2008

Trains, planes and the rising cost of gas

The airlines have scored some of the their lowest figures ever for customer service. As I write this, Ohio is facing the very grim possibility of $4.00 for gas next week. Airfares are increasing even as customer satisfaction are decreasing. The legacy carriers are trying to merge (Delta and Northwest have already announced, United and US Airways may be next) to manage costs associate with pensions, skyrocketing fuel costs and demands from unions for better wages. Air travel now has become a pale shadow of its former self. Security lines, long waits, cancelled flights, and cramped cabins combine to make air travel one of the least enjoyable means to travel within the continental United States.

Increased prices at the pump should mean increased air travel but due to increased fares and decreased comfort air travel is also suffering. Articles covering increase fuel costs are usual accompanied by stories suggesting ways to reduce energy consumption. More people are turning to motorcycles or bicycles for commuting. These are great options for short trips, weather permitting, but these are only stop gap measures for a much greater issues. The United States has been woefully negligent in maintaining a viable transportation system. In Ohio, which has seven major metropolitan areas, has no system for commuting amongst these population areas. You can drive from the two furthest points in Ohio (Cincinnati to Cleveland for example) in five hours. If you don’t want to drive, you only other option is Greyhound.

If this were say Germany instead, a modern and efficient rail system would exist and could move several thousand passengers throughout the day cheaply. The railroad was invented in the United States yet we are the least modern system of any modern nation. You can’t for instance take a train from Cincinnati to St Louis (unless you go through Chicago. An 18 hour trip for a distance that can be driven in under 6 hours).

Revitalizing our train system would not only reduce dependence on oil, it would reduce congestion in our airspaces as well as increase jobs. Ohio especially has a stagnant economy that isn’t showing much signs of recovery in the near future. Building, operations and maintaining a rail system amongst the three C’s (Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland) would be a tremendous boost to our economy. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical to our security. Trains offer a safe and effective way of accomplishing this goal.

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