I’ll give you a fair warning. If you are triggered by politicians spewing absolute nonsense, there’s a fair deal of that headed your way if you keep reading, and you’ll be less than shocked to learn that Joe Biden is the one doing the spewing.
With the “infrastructure” bill taking center stage now as the White House’s top priority, the push for trains to become more prominent in America is in full swing. It doesn’t matter that the country is far too massive to need a system of high-speed rail given that air travel costs far less. But global warming and emissions and all that so you get the current, asinine obsession with making choo-choos great again.
Today, Biden attempted to sell the idea, and things did not go well.
“What we’re really doing is raising the bar on what we can imagine. Imagine a world where you and your family can travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas on a high-speed train close to as fast as you can go across the country in a plane,” Biden said at the White House.
He added: “I tell the kids, the young people who work for me, tell my kids when I go on college campuses: they’re going to see more change in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years. We’re going to talk about commercial aircraft flying at subsonic speeds — supersonic speeds. To be able, figuratively, if you may, if we decide to do it, traverse the world in about an hour, travel 21,000 miles an hour. So much is changing and we have got to lead it.”
Maybe it’s because I’m a commercial pilot, but this kind of thing really bothers me. The fastest, in-service trains in the world reside in China (but are not long distance), with regular operating speeds of around 220mph. A supposed record-breaking bullet train is currently being developed in Japan but is not in service yet. Can trains go faster under some conditions? Yes, they can in certain environments for short periods of time (a French train reached 357mph but only goes 200mph in service).
Regardless, while we can quibble about top speeds, there’s no question that trains are nowhere near as fast as commercial jets and are unlikely to ever be so. A Boeing 737 cruises at around 530mph, but more importantly, it doesn’t make 20 stops while crossing the country. That’s really where trains will never truly be competitive. Anyone that’s sat on a train for 24 hours in a place like China to go what would have taken 3 hours in an airliner understands exactly what I’m talking about. You also have to factor in that trains must slow down over certain types of terrain which are plentiful in the United States. High-speed rail can’t do 200mph through the Rockies. We aren’t going to be able to bore straight through 10,000+ foot mountains.
Further, the infrastructure to build a bullet train system to service even the metro areas of the US would cost so much as to be hard to fathom. No doubt, the national airspace costs money as well, but consider the tens of billions of dollars California wasted on their very short, high-speed rail to nowhere. Now multiply that by many magnitudes and you might get close to the costs of what Democrats are envisioning.
But again, the real issue here isn’t whether it’s possible to do what Biden says, though, it’s unlikely to be workable. The issue is that air travel already does it better so why fix what’s not broken? It’s simply better to be able to fly point to point to almost anywhere in the country on a direct flight. Why would someone want to take a 20-hour bullet train ride across the country with a dozen stops when a plane can get them there in 4 hours? Consumer costs for train travel are also prohibitive. Even the current, slow rail system produces ticket prices far above air travel. Imagine how much a ticket would cost on some cross country, high-speed rail boondoggle? As to Biden’s comments on supersonic air travel, let’s just say we aren’t close to making that mainstream. There’s a reason the Concorde isn’t in service anymore.
Lastly, safety is also a question. Do you really want to go 300mph on a train for a long period of time? The slightest track malfunction or obstruction could be catastrophic, and while tiny countries like Japan make it work with rigorous maintenance and monitoring, at what point do the costs and effort become not worth it? Meanwhile, airliners are about 50x safer than cars, much faster than trains, cost far less in infrastructure, and are certainly more convenient.
Biden is a classic BS artist. He’s the kind of guy who just says things and hopes people don’t hold him to anything that comes out of his mouth down the road. His infrastructure bill is not going to deliver a nationwide, high-speed rail system that travels as fast as an airliner no matter how much we “imagine” it. Selling this kind of snake oil to push through legislation loaded with pork that will further bankrupt future generations isn’t laudable. It’s stupid and manipulative.
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