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Page added on February 26, 2009

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Ignoring trains puts U.S. on the wrong track

NEW YORK: Every morning I have the pleasure of taking the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and in many ways it is a pleasure. My train, known as the Q, lumbers over the Manhattan Bridge, providing a view of the Brooklyn Bridge just to the South, and beyond it, through its latticework of cables, you can see the Statue of Liberty, standing tall.

Charming as it is, though, the Q is slow. It does lumber. It also stops frequently between stations because, as the conductor helpfully explains, trains are crossing in front of our train, and this always leads me to wonder: why is it that European and Asian subways don’t have to stop so that other trains can pass in front of them?

The answer is that New York’s subway is older, and it was built with crossing tracks, to which I pose the further question: how is it that in the time other cities have built entire transportation networks from scratch, the greatest and richest city in the world hasn’t been able to build tunnels or overpasses so as to avoid our chronic underground gridlock?

The truth is that when it comes to rail transport, from subways to transcontinental lines, Americans haven’t made much palpable improvement, at least not compared with our friends and competitors in Europe and Asia. It is as though we got fixed in amber someplace between the 1920s and the 1960s with our big cars, our slow trains and our crowded, legroom-challenged skies.

And while the rest of the world forges ahead with new and better ways of moving people from place to place – namely on super-fast trains – we are waiting in the tunnel for the train ahead to cross.


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