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Editorial: Don't miss the high speed train

(The following editorial appeared on the Memphis Commercial Appeal website on August 22.)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If passenger trains propelled along magnetized tracks to speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour sound like pure science fiction, you obviously haven't been watching enough Olympic coverage.

Early in its coverage of this year's games, NBC aired a feature story on a so-called maglev train that operates in China.

According to a separate report that appeared in The Tennessean a few days ago, the 41/2 -year-old maglev train in Shanghai is capable of covering its 19-mile route in eight minutes. So why don't we have anything like that here in the good old USA?

Well, we could.

According to The Tennessean, Congress has already budgeted about $90 million to study possible maglev routes around the country, including one that would connect Atlanta and Chattanooga. And some high-speed rail advocates are lobbying to extend that route farther west, providing a link between Chattanooga and Nashville.

So we say -- and we're not being cynical when we say this -- why stop there? Why not study the feasibility of building a system that would eventually connect Memphis and Atlanta? Yes, there are a million reasons to be skeptical about a project like this.

Even if the funding were readily available, a high-speed train system would take years to build. Other routes elsewhere in the country, such as one proposed to connect southern California and Las Vegas, would probably take a higher priority. And there's legitimate debate among rail supporters about whether maglev technology is more practical than conventional electric-powered high-speed trains.

But geez, with the airline industry struggling and gas prices being as high as they are, how could we afford not to further investigate the viability of high-speed rail?

Friday, August 22, 2008

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