It was my intention to explore Step 2: Going Green at Home, but during this morning’s run I was consumed by thoughts of our nation awaiting the outcome of the Chief Auto Executives plea for a bail out from Washington. As I splashed past driveways and cars driving too close splashed past me the mantra I couldn’t help repeating was that we are all Detroiters. Today as we anticipate the possible loss of approximately 3 million auto related jobs, we are all Detroiters. Whether we are Southern Republican Senators, Midwestern Dairy Farmers, Wall Street Hedge-Fund Managers or Stay-At-Home Moms, we all have a stake in the decision and a vested interest in its consequences.
That said there is a relationship between the fate of so many hanging in the balance and conservation and the promotion of green technology. Any one following the story knows that Detroit’s failure to make a commitment to fuel efficient or hybrid cars twenty years ago is part of the reason for their flagging success today.
As this drama unfolds there is an equally compelling story forming the backdrop. That is the nation’s lagging economy and the incoming administration’s plan to revive it. President Elect Barack Obama announced at the beginning of the week that his economic plan is likely to include as much as $1 trillion for massive investments in infrastructure, roads, bridges, alternative fuels and public transportation.
This is where my radical solution for addressing a combination of the two enormous challenges fits in. I suggest the Big Three take a lesson from the past to innovate for the future. My proposal? Trains.
Before the birth of the automobile there were trains that linked states and made long distance travel in cities quick and efficient. In 1932 and 1936 when automobiles were already in mass production in countries all over the world two private companies, United Cities Motor Transit and National City Lines were formed by General Motors in collaboration with Standard Oil, Firestone, Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum to buy up urban street car lines, destroy them and provide buses they manufactured in their place. Detroit was one of the cities targeted in this effort.
In the U.S. after World War II great emphasis and large subsidies were given to Interstates and Airports rather than rails which further bolstered the auto industry. And so it was that our nation’s and our state’s reliance upon the automobile was clinched.
The two companies and “The Big Three” benefited hugely by the simultaneous elimination of the train lines and the subsequent demand for buses. To this day Detroit remains the nation’s largest city without a rail system. It did however become the nation’s automobile capital and the foundation for manufacturing in this country.
I believe rail systems will be the transportation mode of the future. Policy Director Arlin Wasserman says that the Federal Government has switched its emphasis away from automobile to rail funding and that “within the pool of federal dollars, rail has gone up and roads have gone down.”
Michigan has consistently chosen to compete for a shrinking pot of road dollars. This may be due in part to the fact that highway lobbies outspend public transportation and railroad interests ten to one. It has been shown that high speed rail travel is best suited for journeys of 2-3 hours, beating both air and car in cost, time and energy efficiency. Imagine lines connecting all of the major cities in Michigan east to west with lines running north to the tip of the mitt and south as far as Toledo. The rail lines could follow the existing Interstates and the stations could easily be built in or below the heart of any town because their space requirements are minimal, especially compared to that of an airport.
I say start the process now when our incoming administration is prepared to infuse states and local economies with money for infrastructure projects. I’ve already sent a letter to Obama suggesting the plan. It is said that a $10 million capital investment in public transit creates more that 300 jobs and a $30 million boost to local sales.
As a resident of Northern Lower Michigan I’ve often dreamed of the luxury of traveling downstate by train with newspaper in hand and a few hours of work to concentrate on instead of white-knuckling storms and deer crossings.