For Arcologies to Thrive you need Intercity Rail

One of the challenges of Arcosanti is that its building has not really proceeded very robustly. People have joked that at the current rate of development that it would take about 500 years to meet its current goals of having a population of 5000.

However regardless of the flaws of the project itself in developing an effective process to meet its larger goals of becoming a real prototype for sustainable urban development we need to consider the larger cultural, economic and political environment.

For a car free Arcology (or more realistically an compact Ecocity type development that reduces auto use) to function properly or even a network of them In America today or sometime in the near future, we need a intercity rail transport system to handle transportation between these sustainable urban centers.

Recently I came across a NPR piece that sought to “help figure out why the train system in the United States is so lame…” Writer Ben Jervey went on a cross-country Amtrak trip, New York to San Francisco. He wrote about it in the recent Good Magazine in an article titled “Train in Vain“.

Really there was nothing new about it. Basically Ben said the problem is with the rails. The rail lines that Amtrak uses are a joke and basically operate on 1920 type technologies and designs.

While Europe, China and Japan test out 300 mph maglevs, we fret with 5 mph curves that slow Amtrak’s flagship Acela to a snail’s pace.

It is really about priorities and a failure of leadership. While not wanting to engage in partisanship here, the Republicans have been particularly friendly with the auto and oil related vested interests and quite antagonistic with those who have suggested the need for more mass transit and rail based intercity trasport.

Now we are faced with outmoded rail infrastructure and a huge investment in a car transport system that at 4 dollar a gallon gas seem quite uncompetitive with Europe and Japan’s robust public transportation infrastructure. Possibly this is another sign of the failure of American leadership that has encouraged low density, high consumption type development not just in the USA but around the world through its particular brand of neoliberalism.

3 thoughts on “For Arcologies to Thrive you need Intercity Rail

  1. A quick note from a former copy editor – the flagship train is the Acela, not the Excelon.

    It is ironic that the US did Europe and Japan a favor by bombing their old tracks to dust in WWII. We are lucky no one has done us that favor, and yet from a rail perspective it would have helped.

  2. Ran,

    Thanks for the feedback on the post. I made the correction and add a few links as well.

    I would add to your comment that it is complacency that allows us to continue to rely on those outdated tracks. Interesting how we have allowed the Republicans to shift the discussion away from their negligent pro car and fuel company policies and towards the idea of drilling offshore wells to solve the problem. Too bad that it seems like it would take something drastic like a war to get things moving, but that of course was what it took to get America mobilized to fight the Germans and the Japanese.

    Of course by the time we had won it looked the city was the thing of the past and the car was the machine to move us past it. So why waste money on new rail lines like the Europeans and the Japanese were investing (with US money) in?

  3. Amtrak’s rails are indeed too old for high speed, and more problematically, they are shared by freight trains, to which passengers must give way. The solutions, however, are simple since Amtrak passes through some of the most beautiful terrain in the USA. Link it directly to the National Parks Service to honor that terrain. Upgrade the rolling stock, restore its 1st Class service, and return to it its mail-carrying function. Tout it at home and abroad as leisure class travel. Take the 12 billion dollars Dubya gave away to the airlines after 9/11 because that poor industry was suffering (the pilots and people on the ground got nada but you can bet your booties the CEOs went home happy that day) – take that $12 b and invest it in R&D for highspeed rail. (My vote is for linear induction or mag-lev, one lane in each direction of every interstate in the country.

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