Want Cheaper Energy? Run More Trains!

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

The current Administration is claiming that if only Oil Companies were given oil leases to every possible place including National Wildlife Reserves and off shore that the price of fuel would magically go down. This comes from an Administration that promised it would keep oil prices low because it knew how to “jawbone” the leaders of the Middle East. Well with oil rising from around $30 to over $140 a barrel in the last 8 years we can see how successful that was! The United States uses 25 percent of the world oil production and has less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. The vast majority of the oil used in this country is for transportation. If the United States stopped importing oil we would burn through our domestic oil reserves in three years. Gas prices are starting to come down without one new oil well being drilled. It is happening because demand for oil has gone down because the price has gone up. Hard to believe but people can find ways to cut their driving and save gas.

The only way to control the cost of energy and keep a healthy economy is through efficiency. You can’t get much more efficient than traveling by train. Not only does the train carry more for less, but it cuts down on the need to travel. Too often we hear the expression that you “need” a car to get around. Because for the last 60 years land development was centered on cars; shopping, doctor offices, jobs, housing etc are spread out miles away from each other. Centering development on trains eliminates much of the running around we are forced to do when using the car. Train stations by nature are job centers and major destinations.

The news that the state will be ordering 27 rail passenger cars is very welcomed. But the reality is to create a good state wide rail passenger system in California we will need to think in terms of not dozens, but thousands of additional rail cars. A high speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California alone needs hundreds of railcars. But a larger system is needed in California to connect with such a trunk service. Between the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley we need rail service extended past Sacramento to Redding and Reno. Caltrain and ACE trains need to be run between Fremont and Redwood City on the Dumbarton Rail Bridge with connections to BART. ACE needs to be expanded to daily service every half hour having connections to San Francisco, Sacramento and Modesto. Caltrain needs to be extended to Salinas and the East Bay. Along the coast we need multiple trains between Los Angles and San Francisco. Metrolink also needs to be daily on most lines with half hourly service. Service from LAUS to LAX and the LA Harbor areas on a publicly owned railroad is needed. Rail service from LAUS needs to serve Palm Springs as well as Phoenix and Tucson. This is in addition to SUNSET service which should be run three times daily not weekly! All other Long Distance Trains should also be run two or three times a day. Service to Las Vegas is not out of the question. The Coaster needs full double tracking to go daily every half hour.  Plus there are several rail lines that can be used for either new Light Rail or Commuter Rail service throughout the State.

Critics will ask how can we afford all this new rail service? The answer is how can we afford not to. The current best estimate is that we have about a 40 year world supply of oil. But long before 2048 production will decline and there will be problems meeting current demands. This will result in higher oil prices and push the development of expensive (and environmentally destructive) oil replacements such as oil shale and tar sands. We have to start the transition from an oil based economy to alternative forms and greater conservation of energy. We need new housing that is energy efficient, affordable and near jobs, schools, transit and shopping. We have to make long term investments in efficiency and alternative energy to maintain an enjoyable lifestyle for our children and grandchildren.

We can’t afford to build new roads when we are having trouble maintaining the ones we have. When open land is developed, new roads, sewers, water lines, gas lines etc are needed which we all end up paying for. The best thing about the railroads is they exist now. Railroads will allow for development where we have existing infrastructure ready to use.  Most rail rights of ways are wide enough for at least double tracking, often for up to four tracks. Upgrading existing railways is the most cost effective way to increase travel capacity. We should get the most out of what we already have. The issue is defining priorities. There are sacred cows that will need to be barbecued. Many major proposed highway projects will become increasingly uneconomical. Some transit projects will have to be scaled down or delayed. We will have to deal with tough questions about taxation and spending priorities. We have the money. The question is: when are we going to start spending the money to invest in building our future, instead of throwing it away buying oil to make other countries richer and leave us poorer?

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