Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure.

Monday, February 08, 2010

NEED EXPANDED RAIL INVESTMENT IN THE U.S

I attended a public meeting about Maine's state rail plan a couple months ago in Portland. The government study process reported to the impressive crowd of people in attendance that major traffic congestion is forecasted in Maine during the next 15 years as well as worsening road deterioration, pollution, and delays in shipping.

They told us that the Obama stimulus included $8 billion for rail nationwide (not much when you consider we are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan.)

Most rail lines in Maine are owned by corporations. The 1920's were the height of rail use in Maine and today our state is 40th in the country in the number of rail lines per mile that exist.

Most (60%) of the rail lines in Maine are used to haul pulp paper products. Presently there are not enough rail cars to handle the freight demand which likely keeps shipping prices rather high.

A town councilman from Standish, Maine was at the meeting and told us that due to fiscal problems in their town they had cut $1 million in their road paving/repair budget. The state, trying to dump road responsibilities on the towns, have just put 11 miles more of road maintenance on their town's back. Their roads, he told us, are beat to death by truckers along the highway that runs through their community. They want to see freight rail expanded in the state so they can get some relief.

Maine politicians held a big media event last week in the nearby town of Brunswick to announce that Amtrak will extend their service from Portland, heading north to Brunswick, in 2012. The problem is that this service will do little to help commuters who really need a light-rail system that offers frequent trips to to the big city of Portland where many folks work.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has just come out with a new national transit study. Here are a few of the key points in the study:

* China is currently in the midst of building a $293 billion, 10,000-mile high speed rail system.

* On average, an Amtrak passenger uses 23 percent less energy per mile than an airplane passenger, 40 percent less than a car passenger, and 57 percent less than a passenger in an SUV or pickup truck.

* The task of building out the nation’s high-speed passenger rail network is estimated to create up to 1.6 million construction jobs, and can provide a needed shot in the arm for America’s struggling manufacturing sector.

* It is estimate that a national high-speed rail network would reduce global warming pollution by 6 billion pounds, the equivalent of taking almost 500,000 cars off the road.

* Over the last decade, Amtrak ridership has increased by 26 percent, with an additional 5.6 million passengers per year riding intercity rail.

It is more than clear that the public in the U.S. wants expanded public transit funding but the current snail's pace of expanding rail is not coming close to meeting the need or the potential demand.

As we look for ways to create jobs and deal with climate change it is obvious that building mass transit rail systems is one good way to go. But the problem is funding.

Here is but one more illustration why we should be calling for cuts in war spending so we can invest in rail here at home.

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