Getting Onboard With Rail

I'm the railfan here at Mass Transit. I can still remember the first time I rode a train as part of a fieldtrip in elementary school. It all seemed so big then. But those memories stick with you. I had the privilege of working with other like-minded individuals (let's call them "foamers") at my previous job and it just increased my love for trains.

There's something special about rail. I don't know if it's the nostalgia, the vehicles' size, the conductors, the stations or any number of other impressions you get when onboard a train. I think it's the feeling that when you board a train, you?re going somewhere.

A bus usually takes you within the scope of your city or area - something you can go to anytime. But trains take you places. Even if it?s the next town over, it's still someplace new to explore.

That's the idea I try to get across to people when talking about rail. I get asked a lot about the new high-speed rail lines going in across the country, especially the one going in my backyard (not literally mind you) running from Madison to Milwaukee.

I get the usual questions: Who is going to ride it? Isn?t this a waste of money? Why don?t they just fix the highways instead?

Well, the answers to those questions are deceptively difficult to answer. I like to refer to former Rail Runner Chief Lawrence Rael who said to me, how much is an entirely new form of transit worth? And that's what we're dealing with in a lot of places. People understand roads. For most of us, they've always been there.

Now take those train tracks that have been used mainly by freight locomotives for the last 50 years and try to convince someone that a new line is coming in. That within the next five years they will be able to hop on a train and take it to an entirely new place. It's as hard to believe as a man in a chimney on Christmas Eve.

Rail has this magical quality that either makes you want to believe in them or distaste everything about them. Either you?re in love with the charm of riding the rails or you see those rails as home to a dirty, dangerous object hurtling through your town with a deafening horn blowing.

I tend to lean toward the former. Of course, that is also the more difficult of the two paths. It's easy to shout from your perch about how trains will ruin civilization as we know it, but the fact of the matter is that it just isn't true.

Trains aren't loud, they are deceptively quiet. They aren't dangerous. In fact, they are safer than most other forms of transportation. And they aren't money pits. As FRA Adminstrator Joe Szabo says in this month's cover story that in Europe, "operations break even or show a slight profit provided that the capital investment for infrastructure is provided."

The president has given us the capital investment for infrastructure. These operations will work. It's time to get onboard and watch as the United States catches up with the rest of the world.

It's going to be fun.