Quote of the Day “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.” –Alexis de Tocqueville
As we move through this transition period between the Bush and Obama presidencies, TB has taken the risk of daring to hope that there may be some positive changes on the horizon. There are a lot of problems in too many areas to discuss that have to be addressed–some the fault of Bush and his merry band of neo-cons, and many the fault of their predecessors for time immemorial. And let us not leave out the timidity and ignorance and fear of us all as a collective populace. Some of these problems can be addressed with a little innovation and the ones I’d love to see attacked first have no reason whatsoever for generating partisan rancor.
An occasional contributor to this site is interested in alternative energy and reads as much as he can find about it. Discussing ways to improve access to residential solar energy one night he told me about his idea. The Government should install solar panels on every school, post office, courthouse, and other federal buildings. Schools should be first because they sit idle, requiring the use of minimal electricity for much of the summer. This also happens to be the time of peak energy usage and peak sunlight. The energy being banked from schools would be transferred to the power grid to help meet demand. Which means less coal or natural gas has to be expended to power our air conditioners. But that’s not all. With the Government demanding all these panels, somebody has to manufacture them. In America. Maybe in several places around America. And installers will be needed. And maintenance technicians. The immediate implementation of my friend’s idea would not only be good for the environment, but it would stimulate the economy and provide jobs. And with manufacturing ramped up to provide a sufficient supply for all these buildings the price would inevitably come down and those of us who still own our homes could afford to stick a couple on our own roofs. And since we’d be the first country to mass produce the panels, we could actually export something, thus reducing our trade deficit. We can do the same thing with wind turbines where the weather is more suitable for going that route. It’s a great idea that I wish was my own. I really hope someone in the new administration has read the same blogs and articles and has developed the same, or similar ideas as my friend.
I also know an engineer who has a lot of good ideas mixed in with a few crazy ones and no idea how to communicate any of them. Fortunately, I can translate crazy engineer speak. It mainly involves ignoring everything but the pearls of logic that find their way from the far left corners of the brain to the tongue. The idea is the government or the railroad companies already own all the right of way they need to add parallel tracks virtually everywhere. Those tracks should be laid. Then, trains going east don’t have to stop and pull over for trains going west any more. So more trains can go east, to say nothing of west. So more freight can be moved by rail. So fewer 18 wheelers will be required to burn so much gas, spew rocks into TB’s windshield or generally make life miserable for everyone else who tries to use their highways. Makes sense to me. Health care reform, Iraq, and the financial crisis are important and must be addressed, but they are going to be tough. Bills based on these two ideas could pass in a week (just lock out the lobbyists for coal, oil, sheiks and teamsters for a few days).
And finally, a reader suggests that due to the hangover so many of you are feeling from the crazy “Third Week” celebrations and the upcoming mandated family time that is Thanksgiving, it would be innovative and advisable to begin Thursday pickin on a (gasp) Wednesday. Let it not be said that TB is afraid of progress. Thursday pickin will commence early this week so as to assist those who will be away from their computers later in the week. If I’m too slow getting the new post up for you just email me your picks or go ahead and post them here and I’ll move them over later. This is one innovation I can control and implement. It will be done. And no amount of “Thursday only” lobbying dollars can change my stance.
Actually, that last sentence isn’t at all true.
I think you will see a considerable effort by the Obama Administration to invest in infrastructure. I think the attempt will be much like the New Deal to spur the economy. I hope and think that the investment in the infrastructure will be used for the greater good. My concern would be corruption and fraud in the handling and awarding of bids.
Yeah, fraud/corruption is always present in the government, but probably more so in the private sector. All we can do is prosecute/sue when we find it out. If the projects are actually bid, I think it’ll help some (as opposed to the no-bid contracts Bush/Cheney favored). But even within the bid system, fraud and corruption are present. No matter the obstacles though, as a country we’ve really got to take on a modernization effort. There are a lot of good ideas floating around, but the two I wrote on came from folks I know and they seem so sensible I like to spread them around when I can.
I don’t like idea #2 very much.
According to the Association of American Railroads, there are approximately 233,000 miles of railroad track in the United States, so to move the current track, along with the raised mound that it sits upon in many places, over a few feet and install 233,000 miles of new track would be very costly. Then you would have to enlarge the thousands of intersections that the RR tracks cross. Plus, I would assume that RR companies use most of their RR cars now, so they would have to purchase enough engines and freight cars to double their current numbers to have enough to go both ways at the same time. Finally, the last time I saw one go by, RR engines did not exactly appear to be pollution free to me.
Who is going to pay for this? If it made financial sense, the RR companies would have already done it.
Is one train having to pull over and stop for the other to go by really such a big problem that we are going to spend hundreds of billions (probably trillions by the time the funds are laundered through the federal government) to fix this problem? It really does not bother me that much.
There is no doubt the idea about increasing rr efficiency will be costly, and only the government can undertake such a project. I realize that makes it a non-starter for some people.
The issues the idea addresses are (1) inefficient movement of goods (2) cutting back on fuel usage, good for reducing our oil dependence and pollution and (3) addressing the traffic problem and wear and tear on our highway system inflicted by 18 wheelers.
If one does not believe there is a problem to address, the discussion is moot. However, if we can agree these issues must be addressed, the alternatives are to do nothing and simply make repairs as we go along or to increase the size of our highways. Option two will cost a lot of money too, and will probably have to be repeated in a decade (about when the expansions are concluding). Is there another option? There may be more problems with the rail idea than I can foresee, but as I said, it makes good sense to me.
It also should be better for the taxpayer in the long run because the freight companies can simply be taxed for their use of the system.
A further benefit to the parallel tracks would be to increase the potential use of the system for passenger trains. They would substantially improve their travel speeds by eliminating the need to stop and let an opposite bound train pass.
I think all the points you raised are valid concerns, and would have to be addressed, but in my estimation the benefits would far outweigh the cost.
I was looking at this from a cost perspective and did not realize that you were looking at it from a policy perspective. If we want to say as a country that we, as a matter of national policy, prefer the movement of freight to be done by RR instead of trucks because of less pollution, less traffic, less wear and tear on the roads and less use of gas/oil, then I understand your position much better.
1. No matter how nice and extensive the RR system is, it will still be cheaper for companies to move freight by truck when gas prices are low. The government would have to mandate the use of the RR instead of trucks for this to work;
2. Trucks compete with RR in freight moving and, as a free market capitalist, I am not real comfortable with the government picking one over the other. What happens to the truckers, the trucks and the trucking businesses if the government puts the out of business?
Instead of the government spending a trillion plus of our dollars to double the RR line system and buy more freight cars, it could accomplish the same goals listed above by simply increasing the gas/diesel tax by a large amount. This would discourage the use of gas/oil, reduce pollution, encourage the use of alternative energy sources, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce traffic and the wear and tear on the roads and make the use of the RR for freight transport relatively cheap as compared to trucks. If the RR companies’ freight traffic increased sufficiently, they could pay for their own double-tracked system where RR traffic was heaviest and needed.