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Transportation Technology

Can the Auto Industry Retool Itself To Build Rails? 897

Posted by Soulskill
from the cross-training dept.
knapper_tech writes "The scope of the auto industry troubles continues to increase in magnitude. The call to retool and develop new vehicles has been made several times already, but with all of the challenges from labor prices and foreign competition, how exactly can the industry retool itself to be more competitive? In light of superior competition facing losses, there doesn't seem to be enough room in the industry moving forward. In the context of finding a new place in the auto industry, the future isn't bright. Calls for no disorderly collapse of the cash-strapped big three and a reluctant congress can only point to an underlying lack of direction. However, consider two other standing economic challenges. The airlines have continued to struggle due to fuel prices and heightened security. Consumers backed off of SUV's due to high fuel prices, and while those prices have eased in the face of global recession, the trend will pick up again with growth in China and India leading the fight for resources. In short, things are moving less, and the industries that support the movement are in need of developing new products while consumers are in need of a cheaper method of transportation." Read on for the rest of knapper_tech's thoughts.
knapper_tech continues:
"Looking abroad, it's clear the US has far less invested in local and regional rail systems. With regard to high-speed rail systems, the US is conspicuously behind. France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h. China operates the world's first commercial maglev line while the famous Japanese Shinkasen goes without mentioning. In the US there is only one line in operation between DC and Boston with a few more planned as a result of the 2008 election in California.

The traditional barrier to implementation of rail systems is the initial investment costs, but in the context of economic stimulus, such investment sinks are actually desirable. The auto industry has clearly taken note with proposals from companies like Caterpillar for huge new infrastructure projects.

A friend who recently bought a house observed that real-estate prices are on the rise nearer to city centers, where the fallout of mortgage problems and expensive, time-consuming drives from the suburbs can be avoided. Recalling the huge number of urban revitalization plans and efforts to increase the viability of older city centers, it seems as though many municipal governments would also be in line to gain from the added density of rail systems and increased activity they can support in downtown areas.

Putting it all together, it seems like now would be a good time to direct the industrial capacity of the automotive and supporting industries to developing local and regional, high-speed rail systems to provide a more efficient and effective infrastructure basis for US cities while essentially creating a new market where competition from foreign car manufacturers will not be a problem. At the same time, a huge labor force would be required. The task would call for engineers for development, factory workers for manufacturing, operators, and maintenance workers. Caterpillar still gets to sell construction equipment. The inevitable stream of stores popping up around stations would provide new commercial areas. Last-mile bus and taxi services would also have a new place. The list goes on.

Besides the savings in fuel, the US could also gain international prestige and possibly help lead China and India away from our mistakes, helping to stem the rising demand for oil globally and avoiding the attendant international tension. Climate change is yet another win in this scenario.

It seems like we're not exactly headed in that direction, and I'm curious to see what Slashdot readers think of all this. What pieces need to be in place to make the investments pay off? What are additional resources that are required? Can the industries really make such a change of direction? Do we have everything we need in the US? How would such systems work out long term? Would the initial investments be able to pick up fast enough to stimulate the economy?"
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Can the Auto Industry Retool Itself To Build Rails?

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  • Re:Right. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:45PM (#26238197)

    Besides, the big problem isn't building the individual rail cars. It's building the infrastructure.

    THIS! If you want someone to build out rail infrastructure, have someone like Union Pacific or Canadian Northern do it. They have experience maintaining millions of miles of rail.

  • Re:Right. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gorehog (534288) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:03PM (#26238343)

    Mmm, I want to correct you by changing the word building to rebuilding. When I was in my late teens and early 20's there was a massive project in Orange County, NY (yep, Orange County Choppers) to rip up unused rail lines and make the old railroad beds inaccessible.

    We used to have a massive rail infrastructure in the USA. The neo-con revolution killed it when Reagan made the point of gutting social infrastructure.

  • Try fuel cells (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gorehog (534288) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:17PM (#26238435)

    Are you serious? No, really, I wonder if you mean what you say.

    Fuel cells are a few engineering problems away from being a viable solution for electric driving.

    1)Any problem with the fuel cell unit itself can be solved with the application of money for engineering. It's all solvable, it just needs an investment of effort which translates into money.

    2)To the whiners who say "We don't have a hydrogen infrastructure" I reply with this: Hydrogen can be produced ANYWHERE there is water and electricity. Every gas station in the civilized world has WATER and ELECTRICITY. All we need to do is drop an electrolysis station in their parking lot. This can be containerized and done with tractor trailers.

    The whole problem right now can be solved with an investment that is far less than the banks needed. Less than the big 3 automakers requested. It would place our nation in the forefront of the energy industry and make us financially and strategically secure for the next century.

    Or we can sit on our asses.

  • by uffe_nordholm (1187961) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:23PM (#26238481)
    I agree with you, and I am looking into getting myself a recumbent with which to commute to work. According to what I hear, an average speed of 40 km/h (25mph) would be 'normal', meaning it would take me half an hour to work. That's only ten minutes more than by car, and by far cheaper... And no parking problems either!
  • by bkissi01 (699085) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:35PM (#26238573)
    There is no light rail system in the world that can compete with a hybrid car in terms of environmental friendliness. Take a look at Patrick Bedard's article "Save Energy, Take the Car" from the December Car and Driver. '"Most light-rail systems use as much or more energy per passenger mile as the average passenger car, several are worse than the average light truck, and none is as efficient as a Prius,â writes Randal Oâ(TM)Toole in a new study from the Cato Institute titled âoeDoes Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?"' http://www.caranddriver.com/features/columns/c_d_staff/patrick_bedard/save_energy_take_the_car_column [caranddriver.com]
  • 574km/h? Not quite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by acb (2797) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:38PM (#26238591) Homepage

    France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h.

    Not quite; 574km/h was the maximum speed obtained on a special test run, using a train consisting solely of power cars (i.e., no passenger cars), with modified electrical systems and a special raised voltage, just to demonstrate the theoretical possibilities. The maximum speed day to day is 320km/h.

    Not that that invalidates the rest of the article; passenger rail in the US is lagging behind the state of the art and, in many cases, behind the state of the practice (witness the state of Amtrak, which makes Britain's post-privatisation railways look like a model of efficiency).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:41PM (#26238605)

    Oh, don't forget these benefits: reduced traffic footprint, less wear on the road, and fewer dangerous accidents. Of course too many cities are poorly planned and sprawltastic. If bicycling is going to work for everyone, jobs need to be closer to people's homes, as well as Grocery stores, community centers, etc.

  • Rail, no thanks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:42PM (#26238609)

    I just made a weekend trip from western ma to buffalo. About 350 miles. Round trip was over $130 dollars round trip, travel time was 9 hours. Plus all the before and after time dealing with a station, taxi/parking, etc

    Even in my Jeep Liberty getting ~22 mi/gal it ended up being less than $100 including tolls. And this was when gas was over $1 more than it is now. Travel time was a smidge over 5 hours. Plus, when I decided to sleep in an extra hour before my return leg it wasn't a big deal. And when I got there I didn't have to worry about how I was going to get around for the weekend.

    And this was just for me. If I had another 2 or 3 people in the car the train would never be cheaper even at $10 gas and chances are someone would have a better travel car than I have.

    Now don't get me wrong. I tried, and really wanted the train to work. But it simply didnt for me. And where the price to drive stays pretty much the same when adding passengers, trains just start to add up more.

    And this isn't just a US thing. On my company trips to northern France we would have people from other plants in France meet us. The furthest being Dijon, a pretty good 6-8 hour drive. Across the board they almost always avoided taking the train and preferred to drive. Especially if it was 2 or more people. It was simply cheaper, faster, and simpler. Outside of Metro areas I simply think trains are overrated.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:55PM (#26238695)

    The United States is experiencing a fundamental shift in demographics, this includes geographic migrations of people from areas A,B,C to areas X,Y,Z. How this will settle in 10-20 years is anyone's guess. My hope is that it will result in a massive rail system which will allow smaller communities to survive and allow said communities' residents to easily commute to large city centers without having to drive to them. In my dream world, hopefully this could help quell urban sprawl, which is really a significant factor bringing down the United States.

  • Say yes to rail (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mozumder (178398) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:01PM (#26238737)

    Let's not assume your craptastic American rail experience is representative of a REAL rail system.

    The train system in the US doesn't work because it is only a half-assed system. A real train system incorporates end-to-end solutions. It should be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than your automobile.

    Look at Switzerland for a real rail system example. MUCH better than driving.

    We need a wholesale replacement of the automobile transportation infrastructure system with a rail-based system.

    Your car is expensive. It costs you $1000/month to own a car, with depreciation, gas, insurance, and so on. A rail-based system is MUCH cheaper to you than that.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:05PM (#26238771) Homepage

    And yet I'm not talking about trucks. A truck is a work-class vehicle, built and designed for... well, work. A sports utility is designed to allow some moron go around in a big car for.... well sport. On a daily basis.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:14PM (#26238807) Homepage

    And yet in Australia the SUV hasn't taken off to the same extent as it has in the U.S. And Australia has a lower population density and has vast regions between population centres.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:32PM (#26238921) Homepage Journal
    The SUV is more insidious than that. In the late 70's, when this country was almost destroyed by the consistent previous lack of political and corporate leadership and the focus of greed, we found ourselves at the mercy of unfriendly countries. The response to this was to ask the countries patriots a very simple thing. Learn to conserve, learn to be efficient, help out the country, in the same way that people did during WWII with victory gardens and the like. Many patriotic americans, seeing the threat, did. Unfortunately many did not, including many in high level executive positions, who were more concerned about personal profits than the country. One can verify this by looking at the number of companies that set up shell companies outside of the USA. This mean, unfortunately, that patriotic americans had to go elsewhere for the many products, including cars, to attain the efficiency.

    So it was interesting that the first thing Ronald Reagan did was reward one unpatriotic company with taxpayer money, exactly how much is in dispute, but it is much more than the zero that conservatives would have us believe, so the company could continue to build cars that would deliver us into the hands of unfriendly countries.

    As time went by, some political leaders began to understand what was happening, and tried to enact regulation so that all the players would be on equal ground when trying to develop less America Hostile cars, and there would be no competitive disadvantage. As usual, the auto makers refused to allow this patriotic bill to come to term, and insisted on putting a clause in it so it would not hurt the struggling farmer. This limitation said trucks would not have to comply with the regulations.

    They then turned around and used that limitation to create the SUV. A auto specifically created to circumvent the attempt of the US goverment to keep us safe from aggressive foreign influence. A car created by companies that wanted to make money, even it meant the destruction of the country.

    So, what do we have to show for it. On the terrorist attack on new york, 15 of the 19 terrorist were of Saudi origin, yet we can do nothing because Saudi is out only friend in the oil rich region. Eight years of war to stabilize the oil flow, while Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden continues their work, nearly unfettered, 1000 miles away. And what do thes unpatriotic companies want from us? More cash. Why?

    Well, for Ford it might be to actually help american. Since 2000 they have gotten the issues, and tried to help. All they need is a bridge loan anyway. But for the rest? They unlikely have the creativity to do anything other than they have been doing. Which is not much of anything. The free market has spoken and clearly stated that these companies are incapable of producing a product anyone wants. Even with all the free money the banks have been given, no one will loan any of it to the struggling automakers. This should tell us something.

  • Re:Try fuel cells (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grqb (410789) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:35PM (#26238937) Homepage Journal

    Because it's cheaper to do it that way. A CO2 tax could correct this though.

  • by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:41PM (#26238963)

    If you're going to build an infrastructure, how about this idea?

    How about building an infrastructure which consists of two parts. (1) Have a large network of electrified rails which can transport (2) a new type of electric car which can either run on the street via batteries or use this new electrified rail for long distance "freeway" style movement? The vehicle could be something like this... [washington.edu] but runs on electric and uses the power from the rails...

    That way, the current battery issue for electric vehicles would be solved and this time we can design this infrastructure to prevent accidents with various technologies built in.

  • Re:Try fuel cells (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rjhubs (929158) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:43PM (#26238977)

    Are you serious? I really wonder if you have thought through what you said. Fuel cells are both a more complex problem and less efficient method of generating power.

    Why would you want to tackle the problems of:
    1. Generating electricity in a hydrogen fuel cell
    2. creating hydrogen from water in an efficient process that obeys the laws of thermodynamics
    3. building a hydrogen distribution network and
    4. transporting the hydrogen
    when:
    1. electricity is generated much more efficiently in power plants
    2. electric from "power plant -> battery" will ALWAYS be more efficient than electric from "power plant -> electrolysis to make hydrogen -> to fuel cell -> to electricity"
    3. Electricity network is already in place
    4. Batteries is the only big problem electric cars still have to overcome.. they are heavy and don't store enough power.
    So unless you are saying that battery technology has just about peaked and fuel cells will solve the 4th problem much more effectively.. I don't know how anyone could think hydrogen is better.

    Note: I understand some of my points are negated if you were talking about using hydrogen in a combustion type engine.. but i am biased against believing that to continue to power our cars on on mini-explosions is the right, efficient answer.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ender_Stonebender (60900) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:08AM (#26239139) Homepage Journal

    I hear this argument a LOT. The same argument could be used regarding a school bus, however. Yes, a larger vehicle may be dangerous when driven as though it's a sports car. When driven properly, however, they are no less unsafe than any other vehicle. This is a specious argument; the issue here is drivers, not the vehicle.

    A commercial driver license is required to become a bus driver, whereas any idiot that can pass the most basic driving test can legally operate a crew-cab, long-bed, dual-rear-wheel pickup truck. Note that I didn't say operate such a vehicle safely - just legally. And in some parts of the US, it is quite common for people who have had their licenses suspended or revoked to drive anyway...because public transportation options in most of the US range from limited to nonexistent.

  • by SethJohnson (112166) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:56AM (#26239419) Homepage Journal


    Thus SUVs are monstrosities generally while trucks, locomotives and buses are generally efficient.

    I just wanted to extend your example of rail efficiencies.

    Trains also benefit from tracks that have been built as level as possible. Less energy is required to haul mass up hills or mountains. Roads take cars and semi trucks through many more elevation changes than trains encounter. A train also has very controlled and planned stops and starts. Trucks used to haul goods (and cars) are susceptible to traffic and must burn energy braking and accelerating repetitively throughout their routes. These are massive losses of energy that a train never suffers from.

    Seth
  • by JRHelgeson (576325) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:57AM (#26239427) Homepage Journal

    As an engineer, it drives me nuts to watch someone troubleshoot the wrong problem. American auto makers have no problems competing outside the USA. Why? Well, they are not subject to asinine CAFE standards, congressional regulations and miles and miles of red tape that have been added on to BIG EVIL AUTO MANUFACTURERS by the US Congress. Not to mention that each car made is heavily taxed at every level, from the top to the bottom. The feds, the state and local governments soak the BIG AUTO companies, they've been doing it for years, and now they've finally killed them.

    It is also the Unions. Did you know that GM has roughly 90,000 workers, yet provides health coverage for nearly 10x that? Yes, nearly a MILLION people are getting lifetime health insurance benefits because of the Auto unions squeezing the tit of BIG AUTO, "those big evvvvvil auto bastards that make billions of dollars"... well, the auto unions should be jumping with glee, they've been working to kill the industry for decades just to prove that they hold all the power. Well, they proved their point and in doing so they have killed the goose - and we all know what that means; no more golden eggs. Today, GM is nothing more than an HMO health care provider that just so happens to have a side business of making cars. People blame the auto makers for signing the contracts allowing such generous compensation. However, what they do not realize is that the auto unions threatened massive amounts of immediate pain (strikes) for a labor contract that would meet with disaster in 10-20 years. The industry has had a gun to its head for the past 30-40 years, I just can't believe it took this long to kill them.

    Every single other industry in America, when faced with similar treatment (Big EVVVVil oil, or evil [insert industry here]) they simply pulled up stumps and moved their industry overseas. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out when you're not wanted. Big auto doesn't have that luxury of moving away.

    It is the foreign car makers that do not have to comply with CAFE standards, they're doing just fine. Nobody makes big, rugged hard working vehicles like the Americans can. People WANT to buy American vehicles, if they weren't so expensive due to regulations, taxes added to production costs, and union overhead added on to the sticker price of each vehicle.

  • by MsGeek (162936) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:09AM (#26239505) Homepage Journal

    ...have been in CANADA. Where they don't have to pay for crippling, expensive, private health insurance. The workforce in Indiana, Kentucky and Alabama are also of such poor quality there (low education level) that they have had to stoop to pictogram instructions at work stations. And Canada? High literacy rate, great quality workforce.

    Time to get back to basics...invest in educating our populace and cease to be the last industrialized nation without some sort of guaranteed health care for all. Otherwise the rest of the world will continue to eat our lunch.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VValdo (10446) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:11AM (#26239521)

    Detroit didn't come up with SUVs to dupe anybody. SUVs were popular because of their versatility, perceived sturdiness and their status.

    And because the US decided to give Americans up to $100,000.00 in tax rebates [bankrate.com] for buying SUVs. Not only did this prop up Detroit and shit all over the environment, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense [taxpayer.net], this cost American taxpayers $840 million and $987 million for every 1,000 vehicles sold. They called it "Robin Hood in reverse [bankrate.com].

    With their recent rise in popularity, accountants have been advising more and more of their clients to take advantage of this loophole in the law. The tax break applies specifically to small business owners -- including doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, real estate agents, and independent contractors -- who buy a truck or SUV for business purposes. Thus, the deduction is legal whether the vehicle is used to haul seven construction workers, 3,000 pounds of plumbing tools, or one certified public accountant. The main requirement is that the buyer uses their SUV more than 50% of the time in their business.

    So, for example, last year a business owner could deduct $25,000 outright off the cost of a new SUV. Under Bush's economic stimulus package (which became law last year) the purchaser got an extra 30% bonus deduction off the balance of the sticker price. Subtract another 20% a year in depreciation over five years, and business owners who purchased SUVs already got a hefty tax write-off. Now, Bush wants to increase the small business deduction from $25,000 to $75,000.

    In fact, raising the cap on business equipment to $75,000 will make it possible to write off the entire cost of most SUVs (including the Hummer H2 - MSRP $49,270 and BMW X5 - MSRP $40,195) in the first year. Others, like the Hummer H1 will be practically free to the business owner.

    W

  • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sleepy (4551) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:43AM (#26239653) Homepage

    No, you're wrong, and you're twisting what was said to support your argument.
    First, you chose not to comment on the lie about US autoworkers wages being "300% higher" than Honda/Toyota USA.
    I don't consider it a small point... especially when factcheck shows cases where Toyota USA employees WAGES are HIGHER than Detroits.

    It's also wrong to suggest that 100% of Detroit's competition comes from Honda USA and Toyota USA. See, Honda and Toyota face import quotas, and once exceeding that quota they can only build in the US. The Lexus stands for ("Luxury EXport to US")... the economics favors keeping production of the big-ticket items (Lexus, etc) back home in Japan.

    Detroit does not even TRY to compete with what's made in Kentucky because THOSE CARS are economy vehicles... Corolla and Prius. Detroit's always made small cheap cars as a last resort, and consumers know it and stay away.

    Detroit's would be in trouble if US autoworkers worked for FREE. Try looking at what Toyota USA pays their CEO, and what the ratio of Toyota managers to workers are. Detroit's #1 problem is management is structured follows the same model as the late years of the Ottoman Empire.

    God this "culture war" is really out of hand. Some people so despise "unions" that they'll make shit up about their pay, and spread FUD to prevent solutions. Where's the anger at CEO pay of FINANCIAL companies getting tax money bailouts?

    It's snobbery. Folks in dirty denim working a trade should feel "lucky to have a job", and get a HELL of a lot more pressure for pay cuts on a 25Bn bailout.

    However when it's a 8 Trillion bailout for wallstreet (not just the 800Bn bailout, but the up to 8 trillion asset guarantees quietly passed) it's borderline communism to criticize the rich conservative elites of Manhattan, and CEO types elsewhere.

    It's all just another chapter in the culture wars, which somehow morphed into a war against the middle class.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chill (34294) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:25AM (#26239829) Journal

    I chose not to respond to the "300% higher" comment because you were right, and it didn't need comment. Their wages aren't 300% higher, they're more along the lines of 30-50% higher in most cases -- NOT new hires, which are now lower than their competitors. This discrepancy has been mostly addressed.

    Yes, the Big 3 have focused way too much on high profit margin, large vehicles and it is going to cost them. But keep in mind that for the longest time small trucks outsold cars in the U.S. They were building what people were buying. AND those models have higher profit margins than the smaller cars. Had the Big 3 been focusing on smaller, lower margin cars, they'd have been in this position sooner.

    Yes, there is indignation in what the executives get at the Big 3, and rightfully so. But, it is hand-waving. The CxOs could work for $0 and it wouldn't make any appreciable difference to their bottom line. These companies are hemorrhaging BILLIONS, and you want to scream about a few ten millions. Yes, it needs to be addressed, but that issue is like carping about the amount of money spent on the National Endowment for the Arts in proportion to the Federal Deficit. A pittance, and a distraction from the real issue.

    And I was just as vocal about the bailout for Wall Street. Feel free to check my journal, but don't put words in my mouth.

    The simple fact of the matter is, according to GM's most recent 10-Q filing with the SEC [gm.com] (quarterly statement) is "post-retirement benefits other than pensions" and "pensions" make up the largest single chunk of their liabilities, at 26.6% -- down from 30% a year ago. "Long term debt" and "Accrued expenses", whatever the hell that is, make up another 25% each.

    I'm not primarily blaming the unions, though they do shoulder some of the blame. I mostly blame GM, Ford and Chrysler who orchestrated this scheme way back when in their glory days. Their pension and benefits plan is similar to the U.S. Social Security model, where current employees pay for retiree benefits. That crap only works if "current employees > retirees". Once there are more people drawing benefits than paying into the pot, you start rapidly going into the hole. GM and Chrysler are now very deep in that hole. This is really nothing more than a legalized Ponzi Scheme. That scam only works if you have an ever increasing number of new investors (employees), which is eventually impossible. It is what gutted the U.S. steel industry and is now going to do the same to the U.S. auto industry.

    I'm not targeting unions. The Big 3 made their bed and should be required to lie in it, even if it kills them. But the unions need to realize that their retirement packages ARE a big chunk of the costs. Those benefits are directly tied to the Big 3 still being in business -- unless you feel confident about the U.S. Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp [pbgc.gov] taking over. It is time for the unions to deal with the reality that the Big 3 made promises they couldn't keep.

    The unions share part of the blame for blindly accepting such deals. If someone promises you the moon, you have a certain responsibility to find out if they can actually deliver on those promises. "But you promised!" doesn't have any pull outside the playground.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sesshomaru (173381) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:48AM (#26239931) Journal

    The sad thing about this culture war? It's going to finish off the United States. As people who produce nothing but human misery and debt servitude have become so important that even industrial capitalism (note, I'm not even talking about industrial labor here) is to be offered in a bonfire so that they'll never even feel slighly uncomfortable. As industrial capitalism dies in the United States, the United States becomes more and more irrelevant.

    Finance Capitalism? What a joke? You want to see the ultimate apotheosis of finance capitalism? Bernie Madoff. Subprime Mortgages. The great black joke that's destroying this country.

    They'll be a few more years where the U. S.'s bloated and ridiculous military is still a great threat, but as the U. S. falls behind industrially and technologically as both new technology and production of that technology is in the hands of non-Americans even that will recede. We won't have the newest tech, and we won't be able to build it, and other countries will be pushing us around...

    Which wouldn't be so terrible until you realize what shitty governments our new overlords have. I mean, China running the world? The entire British/American enlightenment devotion to the Rights of Man hasn't really made a dent over there. Ask some Falun Gong practitioners, sometime.

    I mean, normally bosses are bosses and it doesn't matter who signs my paycheck, but this is the PRC we're talking about. A country that regularly inflicts Hell on Earth on its own citizens because they might think there is a mystical element to some forms of exercise. If they'll do that to them, what will they do to us?

    And why are we giving it up? Well, the same reason why people give food to a tapeworm, until they die. The parasite wraps itself around the guts and becomes difficult to dislodge. Only in this case, the bowels of America reside in Washington D. C.

    Well maybe (snort) that hardcore socialist (chortle) Barack Obama (snicker) will.... Ha Ha Ha... I can't continue, I'm sorry, my eyes are tearing up.

    It's just not fun to get into arguments with people who believe that the Second Coming of Karl Marx would hire Larry Summers to be one of his bankers.

  • by MadUndergrad (950779) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:20AM (#26240047)

    Another point is that trains have steel wheels. The rolling resistance of steel on steel is far lower than that of rubber on asphalt. Further, the length of trains means they have much less drag per ton than trucks. These both lower the energy losses significantly as the train rolls along.

  • by blackest_k (761565) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:33AM (#26240283) Homepage Journal

    Funny that, but what your saying pretty much happened in the 60's and 70's in the motorcycle industry.
    The Japanese came along and built bikes that were better than the competition, and in the face of a downturn - cars were becoming affordable.

    Sure theres some motorcycles built outside out of the big 4 honda, suzuki, yamaha and kawasaki but the majority of whats left are 750 cc plus being sold to middle aged men who couldn't afford them in their youth.

  • by Organic Brain Damage (863655) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @10:59AM (#26241437)

    Today, the technology for electric vehicles that performs like a gasoline powered vehicle, specifically batteries, is not in place. And even when it does happen, electric vehicles won't save you from the long-thin parking lots that our metro-area interstates have become from 7am to 10am and again from 3pm to 6pm.

    Furthermore, long-distance rail is not necessary to significantly decrease US dependence on oil. Most transportation oil is burned by people going less than 40 miles. And most of those people are concentrated in our 20-30 largest cities. To argue that we cannot or should not invest in rails because of land prices is also silly. We used emminent domain to put the interstates in during the 1950's and we can use some of the land currently occupied by the interstate system in the major metropolitan areas to put in rail lines without requiring any purchase or seizure of land.

    On a per-capita basis, the USA uses about twice the oil that Germany uses. We can and will reduce our profligate consumption. And we don't have to wait for some magic technology to be realized.

    If our incoming President wants to invest in US infrastructure with serious long-term contribution to our national wealth and well-being, I suggest he create a program to build 5-10 subway lines in each of the top 20 under-trained Metro areas. Maybe NYC could use their share to clean up and improve their existing system. But most of the rest of the US cities could use some lines.

    In October this year, I visited NYC. I went anywhere I wanted in NYC, for $7.50 / day (far less than the cost of parking). I got there faster than I could in a car. With less stress.

    If Stockholm can build a decent mass-transit system, any city of 2 million or more in the USA can build one. I used to think it was about population density and after visiting Stockholm--2 million, spread out over a good distance with a lot of bridges and tunnels because the city is built on a group of islands and penninsulas.

  • In order for the US to transition to rail, our massive roads infrastructure to function properly during the whole transition. That means tax revenue, in addition to covering all of the colossal debt and expenses we already have from other sources, would also have to pay for maintaining all existing roads WHILE ALSO paying to build rail.

    Try pitching that plan in an election. "I know most of you are having a hard time finding work, and those that have work are working longer hours for less pay. But I have a plan: we're going to tax you an extra $5,000 per year per person, and in 5 years the 30% of you that still own a home will be able to use trains to commute!"

    It was, of course, Keynes who said 'in the long run we're all dead.' Keynsian economics does not work in the long term, as Britain discovered in the seventies. But it does work in the short term. Building big new infrastructure projects - the German Autobahnen, the Hoover Dam, or a new railway network - create vast numbers of jobs. Right now. When people need them. Of course the infrastructure has to be paid for, so you have to borrow - but guess what? Interest rates are at an all time low in a recession.

    The deal is not 'pay more taxes now, when you don't have a job,' it's 'have a job now building infrastructure project X, and pay more taxes later to pay it off.'

    Governments borrowing billions of dollars to prop up failed financial institutions made no sense whatever - not a single job was created in consequence. But governments borrowing billions of dollars to build infrastructure which will make tomorrow's economy more efficient, while keeping today's labour force in work, that does make sense.

    In the short term.

  • by spasm (79260) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:54PM (#26243137) Homepage

    Rail (as a way to get people in and out of employment centers during peak hours) has been tried in the US and was generally quite successful. It `failed', as you say, for a number of reasons, however a key reason being car companies getting their needed infrastructure (roads) massively subsidized and in some cases (eg LA in the 1950s) actually buying out public transit companies and shutting them down. On a dollar-for-dollar basis local rail systems did (and do) compete rather well with automobiles+roads.

    Again, as you correctly point out, just because something works in Europe doesn't mean it'll work well in the US, however rail is one of those things that you can apply to specific cities or locations where it does seem to make sense, and not use it in others---we're not talking about some one-size-fits all solution. Places like LA, San Francisco/Oakland, Washington DC, Seattle, Houston, which routinely top 'hours stuck in traffic' lists *might* be good candidates, depending on other factors (San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water, for example, making any infrastructure for getting people in and out of town horrendously expensive). Places like Tucson, Honolulu, and Pensacola which don't have particularly bad traffic problems probably won't be good candidates for light rail.

  • by TheTyrannyOfForcedRe (1186313) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:10PM (#26243215)

    If Stockholm can build a decent mass-transit system, any city of 2 million or more in the USA can build one.

    A majority of suburban Americans don't want better mass transit. In fact, a lot of them would love to eliminate the existing systems.

    I've lived in two major American cities over the past 10 years. Both cities continue to have strong suburban voting blocks that vehemently oppose any extension or improvement of the mass transit system.

    This is their reasoning: They have worked their asses off so that they can afford to move far away from racial group XYZ. Improved mass transit will allow members of racial group XYZ to infiltrate their idyllic suburban bubble. Hence, mass transit is bad, very, very bad.

    In my current city the bus routes were recently extended farther out into suburbia. This has allowed certain urban populations to shop at previously inaccessible shopping centers and two malls. It's a few years later now and the newly serviced areas are in sharp decline. The shops are deserted (save for the inner-city folks) and 1/2 the shop fronts in the malls are vacant. One mall is in such poor financial shape they have roped off the raised level of parking because they cannot afford to maintain it in a safe condition. People are moving out in droves. Housing prices have fallen and, yes, this began long before the current economic crisis began.

    Until the USA fixes it's racial issues we will never have good mass transit.

  • by Hebetsubeach (786552) on Sunday December 28, 2008 @12:37AM (#26246747)
    One thing that many in the US would find incredible is that train schedules in Japan are so detailed that if a train arrives or leaves a minute or two earlier or later on certain days, that one or two minute difference is noted in the train schedules. There is no transportation system in the US that has the reliability of trains in Japan. There is no reason we can't have as good a transportation system as other countries. Somehow we've become a country that can't or won't do things anymore.

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