Several years back I wrote to The Sun about the need for a rail transportation system throughout Florida. Since then, our world has changed, as has the way we work and live.
With the push by government to reduce the dependence on gasoline-powered vehicles, reduce power plants’ fossil-fuel usage and switch to renewable energy, their direction is for battery-powered vehicles to replace those gas-powered vehicles that we use on a daily basis. Therein lays several problems.
Most people use their cars for just a few hours a day and, from my daily observations in the Gainesville area, very few use public transportation. Even fewer use bikes or scooters. Eventually we will have to switch to electric vehicles (EVs) of some sort.
Most of us do not need a large vehicle to go back and forth to work, school or shop; a small EV would be ideal for local trips. I have found that most EVs are very expensive, requiring special charging stations. What do apartment dwellers do, as there are thousands in the area?
Until universal and convenient rapid charging stations become available, long trips would be a logistic problem in trying to figure out where you can get a “fill-up.” This generally precludes long trips, requiring a second gas-powered vehicle.
There are countries with gross domestic products less than that of Florida, which have passenger rail systems all across their landscape, shuffling people from city to city in comfort. In many cases they have replaced the need for road expansion or air travel.
Within the interstate and state highways, the state already has the right of way for a system that would go between the major cities. I could see a major line across north Florida and two, possibly three from north to south.
The model that I propose has been in existence for some 50 years: the Disneyworld monorail. It rides above the landscape, is quiet, runs in almost every sort of weather and has a small footprint. It doesn’t have to be a 150 mph bullet train, but one that will take someone from point A to B in relative comfort and speed, riding past the traffic in the medians or right of way.
The major destinations could be those places where people will spend a day or more, and airports. From those points riders could opt for a rental car, or use one of the many ride services that have become so popular.
The push to reduce our carbon footprint by getting rid of gas-powered vehicles is a good thing, but the downsides of EVs are the environmental costs of procuring and producing the materials needed to build and power them, providing ample charging stations and the cost of disposal when they wear out — not to mention their big initial price tag.
We really don’t need bigger, or more, highways across the state. With the changes in our lifestyles and work, the need to commute or shop has been reduced.
We should learn from history: We expanded roads because they were jammed with traffic, only to have those roads become jammed again, then require more expansion. It’s a cycle that has been repeated for decades.
Mass transportation between cities by rail is a proven and cost-effective way of doing things, and a modern necessity. Plus, getting vehicles of any type off the highways would be a bonus. Our governance at all levels should make it happen.
Richard DesChenes lives in Archer.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Richard DesChenes: Florida needs a statewide passenger rail system