Throwback Thursday: Rails Then, and Now

On Sept. 8, 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad celebrated completion by hammering in the final spike in Gold Creek, Mont. The rail line spanned from Lake Superior to the Puget Sound. At the time, rails were continuing to build toward their peak.

"Railroading in the 1890s would see several east-west and north-south main lines in operation including no less than five routes connecting" the West Coast with the Midwest and the Deep South, American Rails reports. But by the early 1920s, several issues pressed on rail as a mode of transportation: The monopolies created by railroad owners, heavy regulation and increased travel by air and auto. 

Since the '20s, rail use in the United States has diminished, with the industry suffering bankruptcies, takeovers and, in an attempt to revitalize the rails, eventual deregulation by the Staggers Rail Act of 1980.

In more recent history, there has been a push for high-speed rail in the U.S., including $11 billion spent since 2009 to develop faster trains — an effort that was supposed to be President Obama's signature transportation project, according to the New York Times. While we haven't seen these improvements yet, there are three noteworthy high-speed train projects in the works: one each in Texas (which will use the Japanese bullet trains), Florida and California. These all would connect two major cities and would cut travel times basically in half, all while providing passengers with a comfortable ride and lessening the burden on the environment as well. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the "sweet spot for revenue is in journeys between 200 and 600 miles," which is about one to three hours of travel time by bullet train. Compared to air, these so-called "short-haul" trips make up the bulk of U.S. air travel, and they also happen to be where airlines are the most wasteful, according to the article. Once the infrastructure is built, which requires governmental and consumer support, high-speed rail could be a way ease our impact on the environment, experience less stress and save time, too.

 

 

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