A homeowner in Waukesha for 20 years, Steve is president of the Waukesha Dog Parks Organization and enjoys motorcycling, fishing and staying on top of politics.
Eugene Kane wrote a good article about high speed rail in Sunday's paper. I disagree and believe I have a good argument why rail is not best for our future transportation needs and is really a hold on to the days of the buggy whip.
I want to preface this by pointing out that I used to ride the railroad a fair amount in my youth. When the railroad station was at the end of Wisconsin Avenue and the train for Merrillan Wisconsin departed along the lake shore, we could take a city bus from 22nd and Burleigh to the station, but once in Merrillan, we relied on Uncle Richard or Frank to pick us up in their 1952 Chevy or Plymouth (remember Plymouth?) and taxi us to our destination on the farm near Greenwood. No bus out there. Indeed Greyhound buses, the mass transit of rural America, cut out routes in northern Wisconsin several years ago because there was no President Obama to give them a dose of stimulus money to pay for the diesel and come close to making a break even point and certainly not a
Lets go further back in time to WWII. Our current high speed transportation system is the jet plane. The jet engine was first developed out of necessity during the war to gain a speed and altitude advantage over the enemy. England was developing one but at the same time so was Germany and Germany was the first to get a jet powered fighter plane into the air. Too little, too late and no match for our pilots with the "Right Stuff". General Chuck Yeager was able to shoot one down with his P51, but I'm side tracking here. Stay with me.
My point is the technology was being developed without the knowledge of the other side.
Fast forward to today. Envision what you want about rail transportation, but it is being trumped by visions of the future that is being worked on today by our automakers. GM has demonstrated trains of automobiles, communicating with each other and with other navigation systems, traveling swiftly and closely. As cars enter the freeway, the collective mind opens a gap to allow seamless merging. Need to exit soon? You are warned ahead of time and are guided out of the chain of cars and off to your destination. Depending on the point of technology, the car may continue without your intervention as it is driven by an system that controls your speed and traffic signal timing, making for few, if any, stops at intersections until you either get home and park in your driveway or reach your destination in downtown Gotham City. While such automobile control is being tested right now, it was put to the screen in the movie, IRobot. Cars were put into parking structures and retrieved much like dry cleaning handles our clothing. This is not science fiction! There is such a parking structure already operating in Germany. Volkswagen has two such devices in what they call Autostadt.
Here is where the government can actually facilitate the future. Help orchestrate car makers that may be secretly developing similar technology like England and Germany developed the jet engine. We need these engineers employed by the automakers to remain employed, but if at risk of bankruptcy, our future demands that we facilitate these technological possibilities without the strings of politics being attached. The Department Of Defence has already facilitated business and universities to develop autonomous vehicles and they have succeeded. These are cars and even a huge Oshkosh military truck that has departed, navigated maneuvered around obstacles and arrived at a destination without human assistance. David Hasselhoff and the Kitt car have arrived. (trivia test) Also, do you notice that again it was the military that advanced technology?
So many of the people who promote these public transportation systems have never used them, as I have, and realize that they are the past. Even railroad giant CSX is advertising that rail is best for freight and to use rail more for shipping and trucks less. Build high speed rail systems and you will get two things for sure. First it will be money losing, taxpayer funded. Second will be shuttle buses to take you to a rental car lot. You see, personal transportation will NEVER be obsolete. We need the vision to further enhance it. Our automakers, American and abroad, are working on it NOW.
High speed rail and light rail are not back to the future. It is just a step back. The future of mass transportation is in your driveway, but in it's infancy.