Looking to Europe

I do not look favorably on many of the traits common among many European countries (higher taxes to fund broader social programs, shorter workweeks, that kind of thing). However a brief mention of Europe in Transportation Watch reminded me that there is one area where we could learn from Europe. They have learned to make use of transit systems so much that many people have no need of cars. Admittedly their population density almost demands this, but our population density is not decreasing so we should be planning ahead.

California is looking at a high-speed rail line that would make lots of short-distance air travel obsolete between San Diego and Sacramento. Here in the States we love to fly everywhere. It’s so bad that Amtrack is almost useless because we are not willing to take the extra time to ride the train that is slightly cheaper. If California actually puts in the funding to build this high-speed rail line they will have a train that is cheaper than the planes and faster than airport security. If that could be done in a number of other travel corridors as well we would have fewer planes in the sky, less fuel being used, and faster travel through airports due to lower volumes of travelers when most air travel is for longer distances.

Similar benefits could be realized on a smaller scale by implementing good transit options in population centers so that we would not be so reliant on cars for all our local travel. At least on those we can look to some examples of good transit systems here in the States rather than wondering what the rest of the world knows that we have not figured out yet.

UPDATE 5/14/97: I stand corrected – as Hyrum points out, Amtrack is not slightly cheaper than the airlines on cross-country trips.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.

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4 Responses to Looking to Europe

  1. Hyrum says:

    Dave, I’ve thought the same way until I actually went to take a trip on Amtrak. It just isn’t cheaper – in fact, the cross-country trip I wanted to take (would’ve been BEAUTIFUL to see the countryside like that) was significantly more expensive. So back to the airplanes for us.

    Having been in Japan, I’d say the rest of the world knows how to live packed together. We know how to live with space. Each of them has their place and time.


  2. David says:

    I’m not so sure we really do know how to live with space.

    I once tried to plan a trip on Amtrak and found the same thing as you – it was slower and more expensive. I don’t think that rails are the most economical way to travel cross-country – that is definitely the time for air travel, but short trips (under 1000 miles for example) could be done faster and cheaper with a good rail system. I think we need to make proper use of all varieties of transit rather than relying on cars for local trips and planes for anything over 200 miles.

  3. Hyrum says:

    I’ll not deny local rail could stand to do a lot better. I think nationalization of the railway system hurt more than it helped. Having said that, there’s still the problem of how to get about locally once you’ve made that trip. I agree a variety is necessary.


  4. David says:

    I think you have hit upon the crucial (and too often overlooked) question in designing a transit system – what effect will this system have and what needs will it generate?

    For local transit it must be comprehensive enough to allow for walking to be sufficient to fill the gaps. For longer rail trips it seems that it would be as easy to rent a car after a 600 mile train ride as it already is to rent a car after a 600 mile flight.

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