Friday, September 19, 2008

Modern rail could help cure energy woes

The reason American politicians since President Jimmy Carter and the 1973-74 oil embargo have been talking about "energy independence" and not finding it can be found on the campaign trail.

"Drill, baby, drill!" GOP candidate John McCain bellows.

The GOP offers a dinosaur solution in an age of technological magic.

No one nails the stunted drill-drill-drill thinking better than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote, "It reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution—on the eve of PCs and the Internet—is pounding the table for America to make more IBM typewriters and carbon paper. 'Typewriters, baby, typewriters.'"

This crisis in petroleum costs is a great industrial gift for Americans. Energy and alternative sources are finally cool, and could trigger big, bold thinking for a whole new spectrum of energy systems.

Rather than belittling "elitists" looking to sources of alternative energy, the emphasis now should be on rushing American scientists and engineers to the fore to unleash their imaginations on where new energy might lie and what systems can be expanded and modernized to provide the energy security that's now politically in.

Big, bold thinking in the Manhattan Project created the atomic bomb quickly to end World War II. NASA's moon landings, which seemed so far-fetched when predicted by President John Kennedy, were achieved in less than a decade.

Lately, rail romantics are urging more railroad systems for passengers and cargo. But is it merely romantic nostalgia?

As plans are evaluated for a new distant airport for the Wood River Valley, why shouldn't some form of high-speed rail transit be included in transportation thinking? An energy-saving transit system not only would serve passengers arriving and departing at the airport, but also the growing commuter public.

Modern bullet-speed versions of the old "ski trains" might also bring adventure travelers from major metropolitan areas to the Northwest. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson are pushing for a bill that would require Amtrak to study restarting Amtrak passenger service between Seattle and Chicago.

Amtrak is still in the "typewriter" class compared to its speedy foreign cousins. But with the transportation landscape changing rapidly, high-tech rail is certainly worth a look.

Founded by Union Pacific Railroad, Sun Valley Resort has rail in its genes. It would be a happy day to see modern passenger service return visitors and romance to the West—and Sun Valley.

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