Ambitious high-speed freight and passenger rail-based transportation infrastructure program required

Gil Carmichael, Founding Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI) at the University of Denver, told a group of transportation industry, academics, and government leaders at the National Transportation Infrastructure & Regulatory Policy Forum, held at the University of Denver, in Denver, Colorado, that an “ethical” high-speed rail-based intermodal transportation system must be implemented—and soon.

“Like President Obama, a growing number of American people have a vision of a high-speed rail, intercity passenger transportation infrastructure system in the US,” said Carmichael. “It is a logical and necessary next step forward from President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System of the 1950s; but proponents have long had a hard time being heard until recently.”

To illustrate where we have been coming from as a nation, Carmichael pointed to several critical events that occurred during the past four decades. “Many of us remember October 1973, when the Arab oil embargo took place and created our fist energy crisis,” he said. “Long waiting lines at service stations formed and many stations turned off their lights on the Interstate. They were out of gas! Americans woke up and realized that we had built a mobility system on a finite fossil fuel. By 1974, I remember people abandoning their 4,000-pound, eight-cylinder, six-MPG Buicks and lining up to buy a VW rabbit diesel. We started to ‘think small’ and solar and wind energies were being discussed. But by the late 1970s we were seemingly discovering oil under every polar bear in the Arctic. The price of a barrel of oil then went from $35 back down to $9-$12 a gallon, and by the middle 1980s we were once again well on our way to preferring gas-guzzling muscle cars, SUV’s, 400HP V8’s, and $70,000 trucks! Fat City was the way to go until last year. Furthermore, research shows the US had an unwritten transportation policy that declared we wanted ‘cheap fossil fuel.’ Virtually any political figure who even talked about raising the gas tax was doomed to failure.”

So, Carmichael posited, where are we today with our 21st century global economy? The truly big energy crisis has occurred. Oil rose to $140.00 plus per barrel. Gasoline/diesel went to $5.00 per gallon. Oil is down now to about $60.00 per barrel, as are gas-per-gallon prices; but our airlines are clobbered by high fuel prices; our Big Three car manufactures are shattered; and our economy is on some sort of life support. It is quite possible that gas, diesel, and jet fuel prices will go back up in the near future as long as we are held hostage by our dependence on foreign oil and unpredictable supplies, consumer demand, and fluctuating prices. Congress cannot keep prices reduced by legislation. Global economic chaos would result if just one major oil-producing nation has some sort of calamity.

“We can no longer afford the lavishness of the past. As soon as possible, this nation has got to radically change the way people and freight move in order to avoid long-term economic decline,” said Carmichael. “One need only look at our demographics and our growing population density. When I was 30, there were 130 million people in the US. By 2040, there will be 400 million. North America will have a population of well over a one-half billion people! We are finishing the first decade of this new century and the old order of ‘doing business as usual’ is not working. It will not be able to correct itself. Like China, we must think more wisely.”

Carmichael looked at where we are headed with our transportation infrastructure. “What is the biggest public-works project this century that can ensure US prosperity?” he asked. “Last century it was building Interstate I—43,000 miles of grade-separated, four-lane highways. It served millions of cars and trucks and thousands of busy, small airports and commuter airplanes, feeding into huge hub airports with large passenger p