Awakening this morning to the news of the crash of Continental Flight 3407, as tragic as it is for the nation and the families of the 50 lives lost, should bring into focus the fact that our nation is essentially held captive by a single mode of intermediate and long distance transportation, air travel.
No one can argue with the fact that it is, once airborne, the fastest way currently available to get from point A to point B. Neither can anyone argue that through the nearly 80 years of passenger air travel that, considering the possibilities, air travel has been relatively safe, in spite of last night’s event.
It is a fact, though, that air travel, from an energy consumed per passenger mile perspective, is the least efficient or cost effective form of travel.
Does everyone need to, or want to, get from the east coast to the west coast in five or six hours?
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of Americans, it’s either fly or drive. Passenger rail has been gutted to the extent that in most regions of the country it isn’t even a reasonable alternative.
As an example, to get from Charleston, SC where I live to New Orleans, LA by rail only, I have to take a train from Charleston to Washington, DC, then board a train that goes through Atlanta, GA to New Orleans. Does this make sense?
The icing problems that are currently being alluded to regarding this last tragedy is one of many risks that are dealt with on a daily basis by those who are responsible for our safety when traveling by air. Air traffic control, air congestion around major hubs, an antiquated computer control system are a few of the more pressing problems facing authorities responsible for preserving that safety.
A simple study of or knowledge of the history of rail makes it readily apparent that rail travel is not without its own inherent risks. No form of long distance travel is without risks.
Rail can be the most cost effective and fuel efficient form of intermediate and long distance travel.
To use an analogy that the current administration likes to point to in their efforts to solve our nations problems, “Any country that can send a man to the moon in less than 10 years can certainly determine how to effectively incorporate passenger rail into its national transportation system.”