Phillip Longman of Washington Monthly has a great article discussing how getting tractor trailer trucks off of our highways and the cargo they carry onto expanded freight rail should be a top national infrastructure priority. The freight infrastructure system has long been neglected and, in a sense, the freight companies have been expected to pay their own way while being asked to build the road and air infrastructure of their trucking and airline competitors with their taxes.
In addition to being potentially lower cost, more environmentally friendly, and more efficient, Longman notes that perhaps the best part of investing in freight rail is that it avoids triggeringly the coming culture war between auto and mass transit users while stealthily putting into place the infrastructure needed for a more passenger rail dependent society. He concludes:
… the proposal has an additional political advantage: it doesn’t involve pricing or guilt-tripping people out of their automobiles. Electrifying and otherwise improving rail infrastructure would indeed facilitate the coming of true high-speed rail passenger service to the United States… [and] its success wouldn’t depend on persuading a single American to take the train instead flying or driving. Indeed, with its promise of making driving more enjoyable and less dangerous, the proposal bridges the divide between auto-hating, Euroland-loving enviros and those who see access to the open road as an American birthright.
It’s a great read as Longman details the life, death, and future potential of freight rail. An NPR interview with the author can be found here.