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The Way of Steel

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Message Jeff Ganaposki

We know we have to cut consumption of fuel and transform our society to provide necessities at lowest cost. One of those necessities is transportation. Whether we like it or not, the laws of Physics trump legislation. The overall winner for land-based transportation is rail (as in steel wheel on steel rail). And the best propulsion system is powered by electricity - for efficiency and performance. At this time, the most reliable and cost effective way to power electric rail is by catenary (overhead wires).

Trains have limitations, not the least is the fixed path. But most buildings do not move, either. Therefore, future development will need to coordinate with rail transportation. As part of that future development is concentration of population. Frankly, we must come to a consensus that destroying arable land for profit is suicidal, if not genocidal.

Those with vision beyond the short term, recognize these issues. America, especially, will have to transform herself from the mindset created when she was "Queen of Oil", and had the resources to recklessly expend. The remainder of the 21st century will be determined by her ability to adapt.

The U.S.A. has more than 200 million automobiles, and very few alternatives to them. We will never supplant the need for automobiles, trucks, and buses, but we must reduce their use and their fossil fuel consumption. And we must deal with our crumbling infrastructure. Thus we come to the conclusion that the most cost effective way to reduce fuel consumption, and reduce expensive bridge and road maintenance is to remove the cause.

Road damage is roughly proportional to the fourth power of the axle load. A 20,000 lb axle causes 16 times as much damage as a 10,000 axle, and 160,000 times as much damage as a 1,000 lb axle (wider tires mitigate the effect slightly). 99% of the traffic damage to roads and highways comes from trucks and buses. Removing as many trucks and buses as possible (by shifting cargo and passengers to Electrified Rail) is the best hope for keeping road maintenance affordable. And by reducing automobile use by 70%, we reduce oil consumption below domestic production levels.

In short, we have no option but to rebuild urban rail mass transit, consolidate populations into more compact villages, towns, and cities, expand / recover arable land from suburban sprawl, and electrify all mainline railroads - the quicker the better.

America once built 500 electric streetcar systems in less than 20 years (1890 - 1910). Streetcar / Trolley tracks reached 34,404 miles by 1907. The interurban electric railways for the entire country totaled approximately 18,000 miles by 1917. Most cities and towns of 25,000 or more got a non-oil electrical transportation system. The U.S.A. did this with a population of less than one-third of today's, approximately 3% of today's GNP, and relatively primitive technology.

If 20th century America didn't have "cheap and plentiful oil", she might not have dismantled her once prodigious rail network that efficiently moved her people and products. But the age of oil is coming to an end. We are in a race, as our fossil fuel dwindles and demand grows, to transform our environment before it becomes too expensive or too late. There will be sacrifice and loss, as we reshape our lifestyle and options. But the consequences of doing the wrong thing are much greater.

We must look back to pre-petroleum solutions, to look forward. Steel rails are the strong foundation upon which we rebuild our civilization. And once we are no longer hostage to petroleum, we shall resume building prosperity - making more, for less - moving more, for less - so that more can enjoy the good things of life.

To save America, we must get her "back on track".

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Jet Graphics is what an IBM computer (1980 vintage) spell checker thought my name should be spelled. I am a student of the infinite, and enjoy science fiction, philosophy, history, and morality conundrums. I like music of all types, especially if it (more...)
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