The answer, I think, is yes -- and I am not a big fan of mass transit in general. On a local level, mass transit is one of those things that sounds better than it really would be. You can find passionate advocates of building a light rail system in every town.
They believe fervently that it would be good for the environment, and that it would be heavily used.
Heavily used, that is, by people other than themselves. But mass transit doesn’t make sense for lots of us. Take me, for example. I started my morning in the Detroit area, and have to go to four widely separated places in Toledo. Then I have to pick up an elderly woman, make a stop in Monroe and go back to Detroit.
Even if any kind of mass transit were available to do all that, it would add hours to my wait time. I’m not going to be interested, as long as I can get access to a private car, even if it runs on coal oil and hamster sweat.
But high-speed rail linking different cities is something else again. I have traveled on the famous bullet trains in Japan, and Europe, and loved them. And I suspect the vast majority of Americans would too. Airplane travel long ago lost its charm and convenience. If I could take a fast train to Chicago or Washington I would, in a heartbeat. I have no fear of flying, but have driven to both those places recently just to avoid the hassle of airports.
Yes, high-speed rail would be expensive. I think any plan to get us there must invest heavily in making sure the track and roadbed are in shape and other safety precautions are in place.
All it would take is one nasty high-speed derailment to sour the public on trains for a long time to come.
Last month, Governor Granholm and representatives of seven other Midwestern states signed what they called a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to fund a high-speed rail line they are calling the Midwest Corridor.
What they want to do next is get as much as possible of the $8 billion dollars that President Obama has made available for high speed passenger rail. In fact, the deadline for Michigan’s application for this money is today, so let’s hope we used adequate postage.
Not surprisingly, the President hasn’t asked my advice, but if he did, here’s what I’d say. Instead of parceling out that $8 billion a little bit here and there, use as much of it as possible to build one demonstration line -- preferably, the Midwest Corridor.
Build it right, and show everyone how well high-speed rail would work, so they can see if they want to build other lines across the nation. Build this line, and let’s see if they will come.
In a world of disappearing fossil fuel, it ought to be worth a try.