The Reckoner!

This is part two in one man's question to determine America's opinion on its railroads. Part 1 is here.

Which is a better investment for America, light rail in urban areas or high speed inter-city rail?

There's been a lot of talk about rail investment recently, and one of the questions has been whether to invest it in local light rail or high-speed inter-city rail.

  • Light rail is for commuting in urban and suburan areas.  Think about the local trains maintained by your city or state, like the Long Island Railroad, MTA, SEPTA, etc.
  • High speed rail is for travel between urban centers.

Tell me, Reckonauts!  Which would be more beneficial to most Americans and provide the best return on investment?

Reckoning Results!
Light Rail
High Speed Rail
Easy commute!
Better than flying!
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Reckoning Comments!

Alright, I did the research after our last railroad-related question, and it's pretty clear that intra-city high-speed rail will always be a tough sell in this country.  America is really, really big.  France has roughly the same square-mileage of terrain as Texas.  Germany is even smaller than that.  That's why high-speed rail makes sense in those places.

Commuter trains are great, and Americans actually do ride them.  Anyone who's been stuck in traffic around Washington DC, or NYC, or anywhere, really, knows the value of taking the train versus driving during rush hour. There are many cities where this doesn't quite work, because you can't get anywhere once you've taken the train without a car anyway.  Sun Belt cities, I'm looking at you.  But those cities aren't going to get anything out of high-speed rail either.

This is a tough question.  Living on the US East Coast, I really like the option of jumping on an Amtrak train to head to NYC and DC on those rare occasions I need to.

But I also see the appeal of having a light rail option to bring in commuters from the outskirts of a city.  This too is problematic as it may encourage further urban sprawl rather than concentrating population in the city where you get better efficiencies.  This being said I neither live in nor work in the city but do commute on the outer suburbs.

Need to think this one through some more...

High-speed rail would make more sense than light rail, if only because urban centers aren't likely to change anytime soon, whereas with light-rail, the suburban populations are more likely to shift over time.  In any case, as I said before, there's a lot that could be done by businesses and individuals if we can just get the urban planners and zoning control freaks out of the way. 

Minimize restrictions on taxicabs, shuttles, and bus services.  For example, imagine mini-vans operating as buses, but with the flexibility to pick up out-of-the-way fares, or even quickly switch over to taxi mode.  Or imagine small business owners living in the back of the business, or on the 2nd floor of their building.  Both these things are pretty limited or restricted by most current city laws, but both would help to minimize traffic congestion and make it easier for people to get around town.    And these are just two examples--many other things are possible.  We don't need urban planning so much as we just need to let people be free to do what is economically feasible and worthwhile.


The Reckoner!