One of my favorite things is to look beyond the travel-blog circuit for interesting posts on the future of travel. On Design Observer, John Thackara has a thought-provoking piece on the whole high-speed train push of the eco-conscious western world. It’s a contrarian thought, but an interesting one.
In short and at its core, he questions whether the modern push of convenience and mobility is actually a good idea.
Personally, I think infrastructure is a necessity, and am willing to put my tax dollars where my money is. Here in my home town of Seattle, there’s a big kerfuffle about a similar issue–a big dig to replace an ailing highway that will collapse if we have a significant earthquake. I’m pro.
That said, I think it’s interesting when someone points out the ecological costs–if not the financial cost–of what Norway is attempting to do with their own high-speed rail:
“UC Berkeley has measured the vast amounts of environmentally intensive materials that are needed to build an HST [high-speed train] infrastructure. The Berkeley team analyzed hundreds of life-cycle processes — from construction equipment (for example, emissions from bulldozers, dump trucks, excavators and frontloaders) to the supply-chain effects of producing the concrete and steel needed to construct hundreds of miles of track and stations.
Prices really soar when an HST requires bridges, tunnels and winding mountain routes to cover difficult terrain. On the flat run from Madrid to Seville, the bridge-and-tunnel share is only 3.8 percent — but on the line between Wurzburg and Hanover, the share is 37 percent. In Norway, with its mountainous topography, the resource costs and carbon footprint of its tracks would surely be astronomical.”
Another point I found interesting:
“Although time-savings provide the principal economic justification for HST schemes, the expansion of these networks does not, in the long run, give people more free time. On the contrary: We spend the same amount of time traveling today as we did 50 years ago — but we use that time to travel longer distances.
…Are there new ways to think about the space-time geography of Norway? To re-imagine its wide spaces and long distances as assets rather than as obstacles to be overcome?
Space, like oil is a finite resource. Worldwide, space is at a premium. Norway has lots of space; this makes her rich. So why try to compress this valuable national resource? Why try to make it smaller?”
Needless to say, in the India-Norway competition, India comes out on top. It’s a wonky but thought-provoking piece on what’s really “better” when it comes to train travel. That said, I’ll still always prefer the more convenient as a traveler, but thinking ahead on unintended consequences is an interesting mental exercise.