Why is american leadership missing?

Among many periodicals that frequent my inbox, one of which is the daily ZDNET Tech Update.  It includes many interesting articles; one such “column” is titled SmartPlanet.  Todays topic was “The new arms race: China planning high-speed rail network to Russia, India, Europe“.  I can only sit in true awe at this concept.  We live in a country that can’t seem to get out of the way of its own ego at times, National Transportation not withstanding. So why is it that as our country continues to grow, that our infrastructure lags behind in development and maintenance?  I wish I knew. Here’s the rail plan for Asia:

What i do know is Philadelphia traffic can get snarled by one person simply tailgating and having to hit the brakes once. That wave effect ripples until the highways reduce in traffic volume.  Forget those interchanges that are well beyond their design years (or at least perform that way). The interchange with the Blue Route and Schuylkill Expressway causes major delays because the ramps start as one lane and should easily be 2 or more.

I digress. My point was to bring up that we as a country have a severe case of NIMBY. If you don’t know what that is, what would your response be to any development in your neighborhood? That’s right – not in my backyard. When i first began working at Kling Stubbins about a year ago, i looked into several options for commuting to work. I would LOVE to ride the train. In fact, there are very active train lines within minutes of my home. The problem is that public ridership dwindled over time so commercial rail traffic took its place.  The train station still stands and is a community attraction.

Another problem i discovered was that an effort was made in excess of 10 years ago to re-establish passenger rail service from Philadelphia to Reading. Since then traffic has gotten worse even with federal highways being re-built, re-configured, re-anything. There is significant public support for this re-establishment to occur. However, government agencys at the federal and state level have decided that we love our cars more (ie – not enough ROI on their investment).   Maybe when i was 23, i loved cruising down to the ocean or around town.  But even then, i hated driving to work. If i could ride a bike i would (and did at that time). Now that i live more than 60 miles from my office, not up to channeling my inner Lance Armstrong.

Does anyone have any ideas how to get our country back to being true leaders?  We know many things, we’re very intelligent as a nation, but looking at the Asian community (i can’t keep track of how many nations that is any more), clearly it can be done.


About Kevin
Hi… I am a husband, father, brother and neighbor. I am employed as a Civil Engineer and have enjoyed playing the drums for the last 30+ years.

3 Responses to Why is american leadership missing?

  1. Eric Kuszewski says:

    Not agreeing or disagreeing with the idea that rail should be built, BUT… it seems to me that in the ROI valuations you mention, the infrastructure costs of roads are never weighed equivalently to those of rail. We say it costs ‘X’ dollars to move people by road and exclude the costs of the road, but ‘Y’ to move people via rail and include the cost of the rail.


  2. Christopher says:

    For one thing we can go back to think it build it mentality. Today we’ve let the environmental process get in the way, its more Think It, Let it sit on an environmental agencies desk for 3 to 6 months, get feedback from the environmental agency, resubmit to environmental agency, wait 3 to 6 months for the permit and then build it. As a country we are spending billions if not trillions of dollars in impacts due to the inefficient environmental process.

    Another problem is the idea that car mass transportation needs to pay for itself, while train, bus, HSR gets to be heavily subsidized (non-car mass transportation). If you want a robust non-car transportation system you have to end the subsidies for non-car mass transit. This way non-car mass transit can get away from being controlled by the politicians, budget constraints and react to market demands. But the real question is are people willing to pay $60 daily round trip for the train between Philidelphia and Reading. Based on the IRS vehicle milage rate we’re willing to pay to drive, but I think you’d find a large contingency that would say it needs to be at about $15 round trip to drive demand.


  3. My long-time dream on this was a rail system that could move cars. Say I wanted to go from Dallas to Houston, a 4 hour car ride in ideal conditions, but I hate renting cars or taking taxis when I get there. Load the vehicle up on a rail car built for carrying them. Unload at the next stop. Could this work in a metro area like DC, where it might take 2 hours to get 30 miles? The reason we don’t all take rail is not because we don’t like riding it (I would love the extra time to read and not have to worry about driving), but because we can’t get anywhere when we arrive. I suppose the concept is the same as a ferry, except on land.


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