Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
On July 1, 1828 a song was written about the first American passenger train. As time passed, American songwriters and composers wrote countless emotional songs about trains and train rides. Americans are fast in writing songs about trains but American trains could not keep up with the speed of the songwriters’ talents. America loves trains and locomotives. Almost every city that I have so far visited has a railroad and train museum. One could not find a single amusement park across the United States — irrespective of its size — that does not have a train as part of the park. Uniforms of train engineers and conductors continue to be American children’s favorite. Perhaps one of the reasons behind this popularity is the fact that American land is very suitable for high-speed trains. The United States has the most sophisticated railway infrastructure in each and every state making it possible for them to further upgrade it to support fast trains and extensive railroad network. Despite the fast pace of American life and the availability of infrastructure, high-speed trains are not seen in the United States. It is really very puzzling. Two weeks ago, the world’s railroad industry came under the spotlight. In the United States, a tragic train accident claimed eight lives and around 200 people sustained injuries. On the other hand, Japan’s railroad industry made headlines for different reasons. Japan’s Maglev train set a new record by moving at more than 600km/h. Truth be told, America needs faster train than Europe and Japan mainly due to its geographical expansiveness. Many major US cities are located far apart from each other due to which train appears to be a much reasonable and attractive mode of transportation. It is also a known fact that the Americans love to travel. In addition to the trips during the summer vacations, the number of Americans who travel within the US during other designated holidays or weekends reaches more than 100 million. American airports and freeways remain crowded year round. Strangely, America is yet to take some steps for the introduction of high-speed trains. Following the Amtrak accident, the American railroad service is once again in the news. Analysts are reevaluating past train accidents particularly the one that happened in California back in 2008 and claimed 25 lives and around 135 were reported wounded. After that accident, new rules were introduced regarding the need for positive control. But many companies indicated the need for a seven-year period to upgrade their safety procedures. During the past seven years, the world saw new technologies and new bullet trains that could travel at speeds as high as 600 km/h. There are many reasons for slow American trains. Driving a car in America is very cheap compared to places like Europe and Japan. As time passed, European and Japanese cities modified their mass transit systems in major cities making it convenient for commuters to leave a train and reach their respective destinations very easily on foot. At the same time, American cities that are home to big train movements did not make it easy for passengers to use the service. You need a car to go to the train station and you need another one to leave the train station. So, why not take a car in the first place. This is why tourists in Europe very seldom rent a car for their transportation needs. Public transportation is very well connected to the train services. But in America, any tourist especially in the smaller cities will not be able to go around without renting a car. So, yes, America loves trains and sings about them. Millions of Americans heard of and still sing the 1941’s song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” but most of them have yet to see bullet trains. At the end, bullet trains don’t make Whoo Whoo train whistle sound. If even they do, you will not be able to hear it, as before it becomes audible these trains reach the other side of the town. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. America’s Need for Speed reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.