Thursday, May 24, 2007
Transportation Conference from Netizen kevikens
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 12:46 PM
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Subject: Transportation Conference from Netizen kevikens
This week my paper had me covering the UTL, the Urban Transportation League which has been meeting this week in Boston. They chose one of the buildings of Boston University on Commonwealth Ave. which is served by the "T's" Green Line light rail so that way the attendees can use public transit when coming and going. Two years ago when the UTL last met the topic of the conversation and workshops was the desirability of using public transit. This year the only topic was the NECESSITY of public transit and not for the lofty goal of reducing air pollution but the essential goal of moving people who can no longer afford to drive a car and at the rate the price of petroleum based fuels is rising that soon is going to be all of us. Two years ago the UTl spoke of using all forms of public transit but this year the emphasis is on electrically powered light rail, or trolleys, as they used to be called. Apparently the costs of petroleum fuels has risen to the point where transit agencies can no longer afford to operate diesel powered buses and every city is clamoring for the light rail systems which generally use electricity as the power source. What this writer found fascinating is that apparently some sixty or so years ago virtually major city had just such a network of light rail lines but in the 1950's most cities tore out the rails and replaced them with buses which burned diesel fuel. A few places like Boston, Newark, Philadelphia and San francisco kept at least some of these lines and are they glad they did as the ever increasing costs, and increasing scarcity, of petroleum make these lines the only ones cost effective to operate. Every speaker at the UTL conference stated that the only way to assure that people can travel in, and to and from, our cities is to rebuild those electric trolley lines and quickly. Unfortunately several delegates told this reporter that this is going to be very difficult to do. There are no factories in the US that can build these cars. The last company to build these vehicles, Boeing Vertol ceased production over twenty years ago. They are made now only in Asia and Europe and countries there are also screaming for vehicles for their own transportation needs. It would take years to retool some of out plants to build them. But what this reporter found very, very disturbing, and this was told to me in confidence and is not for attribution, is that there is actually an active effort by interests in this country to prevent any new electrically powerd light rail lines from being built. It seems that in some cities where this light rail technology has been ressurected recently- Baltimore, San Jose, Los Angeles to name a few- they have become so effective at pulling cars and busses off the road that two vested interests, the auto industry and Big Oil are doing everything thay can to derail these proposed projects, from lobbying Congress to actually placing obstacles in the way of building any new lines. One UTL officer quietly told me that a representative of Big Oil actually told him, "every time you try to build a line we will find a tree frog or snail darter or spotted owl on the proposed right of way. We can tie you people up in the courts for decades to come".I don't know if this is true. In this present emergency I cannot image that any American industry would actually try to oppose a technology, electrically power light rail lines, that can save so much energy. I do know that the Urban Transportation League intends to try to get transportation agencies to expand existing light rail or rebuild the abandoned ones but unless the public strongly pressures local, state and federal government to subsidize this infrastructure I do not know if it can be done.