We've wondered what role rail and high speed rail -- "Obama's signature issue," for which at least $8 billion is laid out over the next few years -- will play in the new economically stimulated United States, and asked if it's the answer many think it is. It certainly seems like a good solution to outdated infrastructure, oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions.
But here's something to put in your tailpipe: a new domestic rail industry could create as many jobs as struggling Detroit does now, argues Yonah Freemark at Infrastructurist. An American rail network on par with France's
could transport 500 million passengers a year on fast rail and provide jobs for one million people operating trains, maintaining track, and serving customers. There are about as many people working in motor vehicle and part manufacturing in the U.S. today.Manufacturing rail cars couldn't compete on job-generating terms with the auto industry. In Germany (at the train manufacturer Siemens) and Canada (at Bombardier), train construction only employs 45,000 and 34,000 workers respectively -- paltry next to the 200,000-plus workforce of a major automaker like GM or Ford.
The rub, Freemark notes, lies in the service side of trains: the conductors, staff and other maintenance people needed to operate a serious rail network.
France’s TGV high-speed trains, which criss-cross that country, carried 100 million people in 2008, and the national rail company employs about 200,000 people (that number includes people working on commuter trains). France is 1/5th the size of the U.S. in population.
One can extrapolate: an equivalent American rail network could transport 500 million passengers a year on fast rail and provide jobs for one million people operating trains, maintaining track, and serving customers. There are about as many people working in motor vehicle and part manufacturing in the U.S. today. A vibrant rail industry would mostly be a service-oriented one, rather than a manufacturing one.
The U.S. isn’t close to providing anything of the sort today: Amtrak’s 18,000 employees served only 29 million passengers in 2008. It’s hard to imagine an $8 billion dollar investment from Washington being enough to stimulate the 20-fold expansion of a transportation sector, but it’s a start.
Perhaps America should look for an example in its success in transporting freight by rail. Since 1980, the railroad industry has invested $420 billion of its own funds for locomotives, rail cars, tracks, bridges, and tunnels, and today freight companies like CSX and Norfolk Southern manage more than 140,000 miles of track and transport more goods than do truckers. More than 180,000 people work in the field.
There’s no reason equivalent success couldn’t arise from a passenger rail industry.
It will be curious to see how well this argument plays to those concerned that cutting carbon emissions and modernizing American infrastructure is equivalent to cutting American jobs.
More on Treehugger
A Radical Proposal: Restore Atrophied U.S. Rail System to 1920 Levels
Bay Area Towns Reconsider Support for High-Speed Rail
Guide to the Green Projects in Obama's Economic Stimulus Bill
Obama Plans Massive New High Speed Railroad