DENNIS SEID: Imagine a bullet train through Crosstown

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

On a trip to Shanghai a few years ago, we were riding in a minivan taxi heading to our hotel from the Pudong International Airport.
Those of you who have been lucky – or unlucky – enough to be the passenger in a mainland Chinese-driven vehicle know you’re putting your life in the hands of a stranger who thinks the lines of the road are mere suggestions and not requirements for staying between them.
So there’s plenty of reason to look at anything but the road and the other vehicles scrambling around on the roads.
During the blood-curdling ride to the hotel, I noticed a flash of something on an elevated track next to the highway.
It was the Shanghai bullet train, officially called the Shanghai Maglev Train or Shanghai Transrapid. It’s a magnetic levitation train, the first commercial high-speed maglev line in the world capable of reaching more than 300 miles per hour. In everyday operations, it runs “only” about 260 mph.
The technology isn’t indigenous – it’s German – but the Chinese are using it nevertheless.
So where am I going with this?
Well, last week, President Obama called for a six-year, $53 billion plan for high-speed rail. Some of the money would go toward developing and improving trains to travel up to 250 mph and connecting existing rail lines to newer projects.
Vice President Biden said the administration’s plan is to build a three-tiered network: a national high-speed rail with speed between 125 mph and 250 mph; regional lines with speeds between 90 to 125 mph; and lines with speeds as much as 90 mph that would link to higher speed national or regional lines.
Amtrak’s Acela Express which runs along the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston, can reach up to 150 mph, but averages less than 80 mph because it has so many stops, and because it also must share tracks with freight and other trains.
So, where does the administration get the idea that a mere $53 billion is anywhere near enough to build a network for high- and higher-speed trains around the country?
There’s no doubt that the U.S. infrastructure needs desperate help. If you’ve ever watched the “The Crumbling of America” on the History Channel detailing woes within the U.S., you know our nation’s highways, bridges, tracks, water lines and other elements of our infrastructure are in sad shape, and something needs to be done.
High-speed rail sounds good in theory, but the reality, especially in the U.S., is altogether different.
The nation’s congested roadways won’t get any better, and rail is and will be used more – but mainly for freight. Amtrak has been a money pit, which shows trains aren’t the transportation mode of choice for most Americans.
My advice, not that they’ll care: Put that $53 billion to better use elsewhere.
So those of you at Crosstown in Tupelo thinking you’ll see a BNSF train bolting through 150 mph soon, don’t hold your breath.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com. Follow him at twitter.com/dennisseid and at nems360.com/pages/bizbuzz