I've had a thing for trains since I was a toddler, and I loath driving for long distances or through big cities, so the emergence of a new president who seems to take rail-travel seriously makes me happy. With the century-old phallic cult of the automobile finally taking some severe body blows in the form of the new depression and the recent spike in oil prices, the time for making American train travel something other than a hideous joke is clearly at hand.
High-speed rail is, unfortunately, something for the distant future here, even though it's been the reality in supposedly lesser, insufferably hippyish nations for longer than I've been alive. All the same it would require not just an infrastructure upgrade but the invention of entirely new infrastructure, on the level of the interstate highway system. Whole new lines of rails would have to be invented, and something like a Denver to Salt Lake Meglev line would require some serious blast-work to make the path smooth enough. Alas.
But there are some practical measures that could be taken right away. One would government compensation to private rail companies to allow right-of-way to passenger trains, so that the Cali Zephyr doesn't have to wait at the side of the tracks for half an hour somewhere in Phosphorous Fumes Iowa while a Santa Fe Coal train passes by. Another would be to convince the UP and other big rails besides Burlington-Santa Fe to allow Amtrak to run on their lines, so that cities like Des Moines aren't bypassed by the Zephyr and places like Billings aren't completely missed by the Empire-Builder. Let the trains role unencumbered through the actual population centers of where they role through, and there is no reason why the American train as-is can't be a faster and cheaper means of medium-range travel than the car. Even old-school locomotives, ones that aren't streamlined and electrified can easily break 100 mph. on empty straightaways.
Now lets talk new routes. The interstate highway system did a very good job of linking major cites via the most important market towns in between, and I see no shame in the new Mecha-Amtrak following its lead. One look at I-29 reveals that a Kansas City-to-Winnipeg line via Fargo, Omaha and St. Joe's is a damned fine idea. Reroute the LA-to-Chicago Southwest Chief along old Route 66 instead of having it go through the empty quarter of Colorado. The lack of LA-to-Phoenix and LA-to-Vegas service is unacceptable, and speaking of unacceptable, have you seen just how pathetic the entire Amtrak system west of the Mississippi is? I could go on.
There are some who are still enamored with the old General Motors propaganda from the early 20th century, which established in the American mind that spending a hundred million on a highway was the American capitalist thing to do while spending the same on public transportation was the foreign socialist thing to do. The automobile became intimately entwined with every right-thinking Americans sense of personal dignity and every American man's sense of masculinity.
This, it becomes more apparent each day, was profoundly stupid. A quick locked-door drive through Detroit reveals what awaits those who continue to assume that the American auto industry has any idea of what its doing. To subsidize these industries; both through direct funds and by artificially spiking demand for their products by encouraging suburbanization (in the name of "individualism") has been a suicide pill, one that I'm just not going to get shoved down my throat anymore; and it seems that I'm not alone here. Bravo.