Monday, November 8, 2010

More High Speed Rail Set to Debut in Spain

On December 19, Spain gets an early Christmas treat. Early that day, the first high-speed trains on the Madrid-Valencia line will zoom from the capital to the coast in just 90 minutes. On December 18, that train trip would have taken 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Valencia, Spain (Photo by KA)
To put into perspective what an achievement this is: the distance between Madrid and Valencia is 356 km (or 221 miles). That's nearly the exact same distance as between New York City and Washington, DC (and not much less than the trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; and San Antonio to Dallas). Yet, the Iberian train service will take half as much time, to cover the same amount of ground, as the Acela train here in the US. Like its US counterpart, the Spanish train will make two stops along the way.

Eventually the train will make this run 20 times daily. Officials have no doubt they'll be to fill the train with that frequency.

Just as I have no doubt that high speed rail would be an instant hit here in the US. As airfares continue to rise, and our highways grow more congested, AMTRAK has been reporting record train ridership in 2010. Can you imagine how much it would go up were the trains even faster? And sufficiently subsidized (as they are in Europe) so they could be less expensive?

Worriers argue that the US simply doesn't have the resources currently to support the sort of outlay that real high speed trains would require.

But does Spain?

Its current unemployment rate is twice ours here in the US, at a whopping 20%. And the country has curtailed a number of governmental projects as a part of its austerity measures (designed to quell the fears of investors).

Yet even with these measures in place (since June), its gone ahead with rail because Spaniards understand (or most of them do), that rail transportation is intrinsic to economic recovery. It lessens the Spain's dependence on foreign oil (already low, due to better public transportation there). But as importantly it helps with tourism. Spain gets more foreign tourists than any other country on the planet. The quicker it can get them to the beaches, the more money everyone makes. Tax dollars spent on trains are a smart investment, and one that will return in taxable profits from restauranteurs, hoteliers, tour companies and others involved in the tourism industry (one of the top 10 largest industries in the world).

I know urging governmental spending is not a popular stance in the current climate. But not only will real investment in rail put thousands of Americans to work, its will also ease the crowding on our nations highways and give Americans a much needed alternative to air travel. Most importantly, rail travel is the greenest way to travel, and will help the environment immeasurably.

Our train systems was once the envy of the world. With just a small bit of political will, and some elbow grease, we could return to that status. And improve the lives of ordinary Americans in ways both great and small.

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