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Vision: Ready or Not, Our Cheap Oil Economy Is Collapsing and We Need to Embrace High-Speed Rail

A conversation about high-speed rail's promise, fossil fuel's forsaken future and transforming our current nightmare of American transportation.

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We're using more than our share. We have this attitude where we can be fat, drive huge cars and screw the rest of the world. That's doesn't go over very well with people in other countries that are struggling.

ST: It stings worse when those of us who do live in cities understand that the real value of the America that's left is no longer located in its sprawl, but in its energy-conscious cities.

AK: The highest-priced real estate is America is not suburban housing. It's urban apartments in Manhattan, Boston, Georgetown, San Francisco and so on. That shows that you have a sizable chunk of people living in cities using public transportation. The 70 percent of the nation still living in the suburbs is a problem, although the real estate meltdown that happened in tandem with the oil spike wiped any further sprawl off the map.

Obviously, the further out you go, the cheaper the housing. But at some point, the escalating transportation costs cross that out. Eventually, the whole household is ripped apart and turned upside down. The bottom line is that the trends have already been reversing: People have been moving back to the cities, New Urbanists have been reeducating architects and city planners to create away from suburban principles and toward transit-oriented development like rail.

And now that oil prices are creeping back up, some people are realizing again that rail is indispensable. In the Northeast corridor, those trains are busy all the time. During the oil price spikes of 2008, every train system in America saw increased ridership. After oil prices dropped down, ridership stayed high because some people realized rail is actually a decent, cheap form of transportation.

ST: They weren't dying in gridlock.

AK: Yeah, and they could actually work or sleep on the train. They could work on their laptops, talk on their phones, do all kinds of things. When you're sitting in gridlock, you can't even blink away for a second or look at your phone without worrying about hitting the car in front of you. Rail is a way out of that mess, and you'll have a higher quality lifestyle. It's brilliant.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

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