Violence Cycle
Pure, Productive Ag


There are many clean, safe, and healthy forms of transportation, which most Americans are unfortunately not using. These are:
bulletRiding a bicycle, the cleanest 
and most efficient form of
bulletUsing trains
bulletDriving new, high-tech, high
mileage vehicles. 

The first two, walking and biking, give us much needed exercise.  If the destination of your errand is a mile or less from home, why not leave the car and walk instead? By the time you find a place to park and/or pay the garage fee, you will have spent almost as much time. These two books will give you more information about biking (instead of driving) to and from work:

Bicycling Magazine's Bicycle Commuting Made Easy, by the editors of Bicycling Magazine; and Bicycle: A Commuting Alternative, by Fredrick L Wolfe


Many environmental and health problems are building up, primarily encouraged by the obsession of most Americans with the automobile. During the last twenty years the tendency for urban development that encourages "urban sprawl," has resulted in the following:

bulletAir pollution, with its attendant health problems
bulletMore deaths and injuries from road accidents
bulletMore of our diminishing tax dollars spent on buuilding, maintaining, and widening roads
bulletMore of your valuable time spent in long, urban commutes
bulletFrustrating "parking lot" congestion on expressways during rush hours
bulletMore valuable farm or potential park land being used up
These problems feed on themselves in a vicious circle, because the more roads and/or expressways we build, the more rural development takes place, and the more cars use them. Cutting the many high federal and state subsidies which go now to oil (for low gas prices) and for roads might start to help this situation, but there are choices you can make right now for better ways to get around.

New technology has allowed us to design and manufacture cars with much higher efficiency and mileage hence lower emissions and air pollution.  Several examples are:

bulletThe Toyota Prius.  It has reverse torque generation so every time the brake is applied, the battery is recharged.  It runs primarily from an electric motor and can get up to 55 miles per gallon!
bulletThe Honda Insight.  It also runs on an electric motor, is very light, only 2-door, and gets 60 mpg in the city, and 70 mpg on the highway.
bulletVW makes several models in Germany that run on diesel fuel and get up to 49 mpg.  They are currently designing a fuel cell electric model that will run on hydrogen and only emit water.
bulletFord will have a Torrus model available in 2002 that runs on ethanol (much cleaner than petrochemicals).

Trains, urban commuter, Amtrak, and especially the new, high-speed ones, are beneficial for the following reasons:

The US should give much more serious attention to high speed trains, or Supertrains, which offer a solution to air and auto traffic gridlock, air pollution and rising oil imports.

For travelers of 500 miles or less, trains could travel between downtowns faster than most air travelers, especially if you include airport gridlock. Supertrains would travel at speeds of 120 to over 300 miles per hour in rural areas between cities. For their entire history of operation, both the Japanese and the French Supertrains have a PERFECT SAFETY RECORD, without a single accident or fatality!

Research funding should be increased for mag-lev trains. These trains use powerful magnets to "float" above their guide-way without any physical contact or friction. Mag-lev trains have a couple of distinct advantages over steel wheel trains.
bulletFirst, mag-lev trains can climb a grade of up to 10%, which means they could go over mountains or hills where expensive tunnels would have been necessary for traditional trains.
bulletSecond, mag-lev trains can negotiate much sharper curves than steel wheel trains, which makes them ideal for urban transit systems with many such curves.
Supertrains have many distinct advantages over air and auto travel: (1) safety, (2) reliable schedules -- less congestion and fewer costly delays, (3) environmental -- trains use less fuel, land, and create less noise, and (4) economic -- if government subsidies are truly equal, trains more than pay for themselves while autos and air do not.
bulletSafety -- All trains have a much better safety record than either auto or air travel, but Supertrains, with their separate (no freight trains or grade auto crossings) tracks and sophisticated control systems, have a PERFECT SAFETY RECORD! This is most notable for the Japanese bullet trains with over 25 YEARS without a single accident! Compare this with airplanes, where increased congestion at all airports is considerably reducing air safety. This is true of runways too. In February 1991, a US Air Boeing 737 jetliner crashed into a Sky West commuter flight at Los Angeles, killing 34 people. The auto safety record is even worse. In the US alone, auto accidents have killed three million by 1994. This does not include the over 90 million with disabling injuries in auto accidents. The number of American people who have died violent deaths in auto accidents is more than FOUR TIMES the 641,691 Americans killed in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam combined! These horrible numbers can only continue to increase as more cars compete in the future for highways. What can we do to slow down this super slaughter? Supertrains!
bulletReliable schedules -- Supertrains save money as well as time. Trains have always operated on much more reliable schedules than cars or airplanes. This is especially true during recent years, with expressways turning into parking lots and increased congestion at airports. During any bad weather, trains are always more punctual than cars or planes. Supertrains are even more exceptional, with super reliable schedules. Both the Japanese bullet train and the French TGV have 98% perfect schedule records. It is estimated that the yearly drain on the economy in lost time, productivity, and other costs such as fuel and accidents, will reach $40 billion by the year 2005 . At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, there are more than 12 million hours of passenger delay per year -- the equivalent of 1,400 people standing idle around the clock all year.
bulletEnvironmental -- Supertrains use much less land, consume less fuel, and produce less noise and air pollution than either cars or planes. A two-track Supertrain right-of-way is only 50 feet wide, but can carry the equivalent traffic of a ten-lane superhighway. There will always be much more public opposition to superhighways and airports than to a Supertrain right-of-way. Despite huge increases in air travel, only one new airport is presently being built in the whole US, and that one in Denver, Colorado. There are always massive grassroots public uprisings against any new airport. A good example is the fight for the last five or more years in Chicago for a third airport, which has, so far, produced no concrete results. The US is the greatest importer of foreign oil and the greatest producer of air pollution by auto and airplane exhaust. Trains can help us solve these problems because they are much more efficient than cars or planes. California led the nation in gas consumption during 1988 with a total of over 12.5 billion gallons. Texas came in second with nearly 8.5 billion gallons, and Florida came in third with over 5.7 billion gallons. Not by coincidence, these are the three states showing the most interest in building high-speed rail systems.
bulletEconomic -- Supertrains can more than pay for themselves, and can be a very good investment opportunity, despite much touted opposition claims. In the US, cars and planes receive MANY HIDDEN SUBSIDIES in the form of federal and state aid to building and maintaining highways, to building airports, to the FAA national air controller system, and to the aviation trust fund. For each US dollar spent on transportation, aviation gets a 50 cent subsidy, not counting the money from the trust fund or the massive indirect subsidies to aircraft builders; highways get a 39 cent subsidy, again, not counting the trust fund; but Amtrak gets only a 28 cent subsidy with NO trust fund to draw on. Despite these very uneven odds, Amtrak is doing much better than its competitors in covering its costs with ticket revenues because of increasing ridership and popularity. In France, where the higher cost of driving and air travel much more accurately reflects the social and environmental externalities of such travel modes, the TGV supertrains are doing very well indeed. In 1987, the TGV Southeast line made $737.5 million in revenues, and only had $291 million in direct expenses, leaving an operational surplus of $446.5 million. This net surplus covers net interest on the debt that funded the project, depreciation of the trains, future track renewal, and a contribution to the French National Railways overhead costs. The remaining surplus is used to pay back interest on the loans. Full debt repayment is expected less than ten years after service began, several years ahead of schedule. The French National railway is enjoying a return rate of 15 percent on the investment, a very good deal.
What can we DO to get supertrains in the US now? There are five actions the US government can take NOW to solve these problems and finally bring Supertrains here for the benefit of ALL US people and transportation systems. (1) Fund transportation more realistically by (a) building a trust fund for ALL modes of transportation, not just air and highway, (b) using highway funds to build separate grades for Supertrains, and (c) encouraging private financing by tax-exempt bonds and loan guarantees. (2) Start building a Supertrain System NOW with no more "studies" or delays; start building the New York-Boston Amtrak route NOW. (3) - Enact a federal law that lets Supertrains use highway right-of-ways; coping with the many different state laws is a MESS. (4) Fund more research on high-speed ground transport; more research on mag-lev trains and super conductors is needed, but make it LONG TERM! At least five if not ten years are REQUIRED to get ANY results. (5) - Modernize Amtrack lines and give Amtrak a stable funding source which might include the "terrible" T word, a gas tax, but only in the areas that directly benefit from the improved rail service through much less road and airport congestion, and cleaner air.

By raising the cost of auto and air travel, with their congestion, terrible accidents and pollution, by either increased taxes or reduced government subsidies, these terrible social and environmental externalities are finally PROPERLY INCLUDED in the REAL cost. When we simultaneously provide a much safer, cleaner, more reliable alternative like Supertrains, as with the French, we will enjoy a much higher return on our investment. This return is not merely money (though that is nice), but, far more important, safer, faster, quieter, cleaner, more efficient transportation by ALL means, air and auto as well as train.

Most of the facts and figures mentioned here are from the book Supertrains: Solution to America's Transportation Gridlock, by JosephVranich (St. Martin's Press, 1991).

Another good book on this issue is: The Environmental Impact of Railways, by T. G. Carpenter

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