This morning on NBC's Today Show, the crew presented a a story of a family touched by tragedy. The young California couple discussed the loss of their three children in a freeway accident. The oldest of the three, two girls and one boy, was five. The mother was on a local freeway around 1:00 PM and the family's minivan was rear-ended by a tractor trailer. The mother has no memory of the accident and it was the father's sorrowful responsibility to tell his wife that their three children were dead.
There were several contributing factors to the accident. One long-standing problem that may have contributed to accident: The exit from the freeway had poor traffic control light synchronization creating slowdowns and backups on the freeway. However, the main cause of the accident was the big rig's driver. Going too fast and inadequate rest prior to getting on the freeway are believed to be the primary causes. The driver has pleaded "Not Guilty" to a triple charge of vehicular homicide.
The hope for the future that the couple now has: Through in vitro fertilization, the couple is now expecting, triplets! Of ten fertilized eggs, the doctor told them that three were viable, two girls and a boy. (I assume that the couple had Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) performed on the three viable eggs.) The couple chose to have all three eggs implanted and apparently the procedure was successful.
(There was no text available for me to point you to, but this link, They Found Hope After Tragedy, will take you to the Today Show page where you can find the video of the interview.)
I will regretfully use this family's tragedy to help me make my point about big trucks and railroads: There are too many big trucks on our highways and there are too few trains running on too few tracks.
At one point I worked in Long Beach in a building that was next to the 405 and 710 interchange. While the 405 is one of the busiest freeways in in country, it could never compare with the white-knuckle driving experience of getting on the 710, the Long Beach Freeway. The 710 is only 23 miles long and runs from near the port of Long Beach north to Alhambra. The number of trucks on this roadway is unbelievable! The following quote from the Wikipedia link sums it up nicely:
The explosive growth of cargo volumes handled at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has added an enormous amount of truck traffic to the Long Beach Freeway, since it is the most direct route between the port complex and the railyards in Vernon and East Los Angeles, as well as the Pomona and San Bernardino freeways that connect Los Angeles to railyards in San Bernardino and Colton. The freeway's pavement has been badly damaged as a result, as it was not designed to carry nearly as large of a load of truck traffic. It has also become a major source of air pollution, emanating from diesel-fueled trucks idling in rush hour traffic congestion and giving cities along its route some of the worst air quality in already smoggy Southern California.
Today, I live near the intersection of I-77 and I-81. I-81 improvements (to handle the growth of truck traffic) is part of a long-standing debate within Virginia state government on transportation needs in the Commonwealth. Again, Wikipedia provides a succinct comment:
Interstate 81 largely traces the path of the Appalachian Mountains, often paralleling its older U.S. highway counterpart, U.S. Route 11. While mostly rural, it is heavily used as a trucking corridor, often as a bypass of the more urban Interstate 95 to the east.
For several years I traveled up and down I-81 (about 200 miles) to and from my home in SW Virginia to my work in northern Virginia. Up on Sundays, back on Fridays. I have no idea of the number of truck-involved traffic accidents that I saw in those years, but the number is too large to be comfortable with. As with most truck-car accidents, the results can be catastrophic. The most that happened to me was a shattered windshield when a chuck of ice slid off the roof of a truck trailer that I was passing. Scared the crap out of me!
These are just two examples of highways in the US that have a large truck volume. I am certain that most of you can identify similar situations near where you live and work. I vaguely recall a trucking slogan from the recent past that went something like, "America moves by truck." The main question that I have is, should America move by truck? My personal answer is "No". Some reasons are tragic as with the wreck that took the lives of the three children. Another reason is the impact on traffic patterns creating congestion and slowing down all traffic. However, a major concern is the damage to our roadways and the cost to fix and maintain our roads. And not to be ignored, is the cost of constant upgrades to our highways to handle the increased traffic.
Solutions to these problems has to involve revitalization of our railroad infrastructure. At one time in the past, America had an extensive railway infrastructure. Even small towns had access to a nearby railroad. People travelled by train and goods moved across America by rail. This is no longer the case. While so many countries around the world have maintained and upgraded their rail infrastructure, we in America have allowed our railways to deteriorate and grow smaller. There are pockets of heavy railway use such as in the NE corridor and in California, but for the most part, railroads no longer play any part in the average American's life. I find this sad.
I was fortunate to have been able to take several long distance train trips while in the USAF. The longest was from Welch, West Virginia, to Mountain Home, Idaho. It took approximately four days and the trip will always be a fond memory for me. The scenery from a train is so often more interesting than that from the freeway. The Great Northern Railroad (perhaps the "Empire Builder") from Chicago westward, took me through beautiful and dramatic scenery, especially through North Dakota and Montana.
Returning from military leave, I took a train from Detroit to Abilene, Texas. On this trip, I had a sleeper berth and that was great. I will never forget taking a shower in the Kansas City terminal. The huge, arched ceiling of the station was visible from the shower stall. I was glad that there were no walkways up along the roof of the station!
While stationed at Ramstein AB, in Germany, my wife and I were selected (along with 49 other military couples) to celebrate America's Bicentennial celebration at the U. S. official residence in Potsdam, East Germany. Rhonda and I rode the U. S. Military train from Frankfort to Berlin, generally following the treaty-defined Southern Air Corridor. While the U.S Military Liaison Mission (USMLM) Bicentennial celebration was great, one memory that will never fade away was the overwhelming presence of the East German troops at every stop along the way. Themost different train trip of my life.
This past Saturday, Rhonda and I were driving into Wytheville and watched a train pass by. It was a freight train, carrying mostly double-stacked cargo containers. We estimated that the train had 75 or more of the cars. We estimated that if these containers were being moved by truck, usually one container per truck, it would have taken over a hundred trucks to move the number of containers that one train was transporting. That train took over 100 trucks of I-81 - and we appreciate that!
Consider the following:
If we had a properly maintained and extensive rail system in America, how many fewer trucks would be needed to "Move America"?
How much fuel would be saved?
How many truck accidents could be avoided and how many lives would be saved?
How much damage to our highways would there be with fewer long-haul trucks on the roads?
Would our transportation costs be less than they are now?
How many folks would take their families on railway-based vacations?
How less crowded would our airways be if trains were a viable alternative to flying?
And, last but not least, how many more romantic interludes would there be when eyes met across a train's observation or dining car?
We should be ashamed for allowing our railroads and tracks to fade so completely from our lives. I wish that revitalization of our rail infrastructure could be a topic among those seeking our votes in 2008.
I appreciate your time and value your opinion. Thanks for reading my story.