Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obama and trains

Last Saturday, Senator Barack Obama (and Senator Bob Casey Jr.) held a whistle-stop tour campaign tour of eastern and central Pennsylvania. The campaign rented a train car at the back of an Amtrak train, made up in the style of President Harry Tuman's whiste-stop tour 60 years ago.

Their first stop was the Wynnewood train station, where a crowd of 6500 gathered to hear Obama. This station, along with many of the others between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has been in nearly continuous operation for over 150 years. It is now on SEPTA's commuter R5 rail, which carries commuters to and from downtown Philadelphia every day.

Obama gave his standard stump speech at the event, which was nothing short of electrifying. If he wins Pennsylvania today, it will be on the backs of these suburban supporters who will likely turn out for him in droves.

However, Obama missed an opportunity at this rally. One solution to this country's energy problems is to re-invigorate its trains. Trains have the lowest carbon footprint per passenger-mile than any other form of transportation, and dollar for dollar are often the most comfortable.

At the very least, we need a high speed train line between Washington DC and Boston, which can rival air travel for efficiency. Other countries have had high speed trains for years, yet the American ones travel only twice as fast as they did one hundred years ago.

Beyond this, faster local trains can link communities currently only linked by car. The trains around New York City are the best example, but the ones around Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington also serve their purpose of efficiently transporting commuters from near their homes to near their offices. Cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami could drastically decrease their carbon footprints by investing in rail infrastructures.

It's time that a presidential candidate make upgrading the nation's train structure a campaign priority. Obama has put energy policy in the center of his campaign. It's time to add trains too.

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