JR and High-Speed Rail Sustainability – January 13, 2013

The morning after our return to the east coast, I met and spoke with a former train conductor. We talked about my trip and, inevitably, the conversation drifted toward the railways. It was actually kind of surprising how much he knew about the train system in Japan. I suppose this can be attributed to how admirable the system is to other countries.

In our trip, we were able to quickly and efficiently travel to many locations by train, be it JR or a private company. Trains were on time within seconds and a derailing was pretty much unheard of. The trains were clean, quiet, and the next stop arrival information was announced in both Japanese and English. Every train ride was a pleasant experience, and any stress felt was our own fault (failing to visit the restroom before boarding a non-restroom train, arriving late to catch a train, etc.)

The bullet train, or "shinkansen." It's so sleek and cool.

The bullet train, or “shinkansen.” It’s so sleek and cool.

The size of Japan as a country promotes the use of railways, but could something like this work in America? America is obviously much larger than Japan, but the entire Japanese island archipelago spans a length similar to the east coast of the US, Maine to around South Carolina or Georgia. Could railways be integrated into the east coast US at first?

My train-conducting friend says it is possible, but it will take a bit of time. Japanese railways have been a model system that the US has been jealous of for a while. We definitely could benefit from a serious train system; less pollution and less dependence on automobiles are all ideals we need to work toward. The US national budget simply has different priorities than that of Japan, so our progress toward this train ideal is slow. But it is progress nonetheless. This study tour is named “Sustainability in Japan.” What ideas can we apply to US? Railways are certainly a sustainable form of transportation. Could these become sustainable in America?

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