Andre Araujo: Rhode Island Needs More Trains

Fellow Cranstonite Andre Araujo has a Letter to the Editor in the Projo. Unfortunately, they got his name wrong (called him Andrew), but the letter still stands as a strong call to action for how to develop better mass transit in the Ocean State:

Oil prices are set by supply and demand on the world market. We cannot adjust supply but we can change demand by changing our habits and becoming energy-efficient. A great inefficiency is our commuting habits. Every day, millions of us sit idly and alone in our cars in highway traffic going back and forth to work.

Before this country was an automobile culture, it was a rail one. The rails connected the coasts making America a continental nation and streetcars dominated the cities. The automobile and cheap gas ended that era in America but when one travels to Europe, one is pleasantly surprised by the ease and reach of rail.

What this state needs is a mass-transit system. We have buses but they are impracticable for too many. What is required is a rail service connecting Providence to cities as far as Newport, Narragansett, Woonsocket and Westerly.

The time is now that we should demand from our leaders that we have a solution to our economic and environmental problems caused by oil and one of those solutions is a fast, reliable and efficient statewide mass-transit system.

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19 responses

  1. joe bernstein

    I couln’t agree more.We destroyed our railways and our electric based mass transit at the behest of the oil,tire,and auto companies.We replaced them with polluting,short lifespan buses.
    An average streetcar can run for 40 or 50 years with no problem.There are currently streetcars running in normal(not heritage or museum)service on the Girard line in Philly and the Ashmont-Mattapan line in Boston that were built well over 50 years ago.Show me a bus running after 10 years and I’d be surprised.
    Trackless trolleys are buses,but they run on overhead wires and do not emit fumes.
    Electric transit does have some degree of pollution involved insofar as the electric power must be produced,but if for instance hydroelectric power is used,obviously there could be less pollution.
    When we rebuild light rail or metro these days,everything takes years,as opposed to the old days when we just built the systems.Now we have literally years of impact studies and feasibility studies,and other bureaucratic nonsense that pushes off practical application for inordinate lengths of time.
    Just imagine if RI rehabbed the old Red Bridge and tunnel and installed a huge park and ride area in the open spaces in East Providence across the river and ran streetcars across the bridge and through the already existing tunnel into downtown.What a load off the I195 traffic that would mean.
    I notice that in Europe they build light rail lines fast and the mass transit networks interface with the rail lines to facilitate seamless travel without cars.I have never rented a car while in Belgium or the Netherlands.
    I don’t admire a lot of ohter aspects of Europe,but they have a good model to work from when it comes to transit.
    The shame is we had that even within my lifetime and I’m only in my 60′s.

  2. People, we’re the smallest freakin’ state. We don’t need trains. We don’t even need buses. The only reason RIPTA buses fill up is because the state gives free passes to the drunks who travel from shelters in the suburbs to the free meals in the city. Also because Providence uses them for school buses. If every rider paid a fare that covered the cost of running the system, there would be no system. As it is, there are probably 6 full-fare-paying passengers per bus at any given time. It’s another example of how government programs do not work.

  3. Drill here! Drill now! Pay less!

  4. Andre and Joe, count me in. Aside from presenting an alternative to high fuel prices and reducing air emissions, it has the practical effect of economic development for Rhode Island. The first impact would come from the construction of a rail/subway system. Good jobs at good wages. Then the jobs for maintaining the system.

    Over and above that, out-of-state employers would/could be attracted to a better infrastructure. We know that relocating employers look to infrastructure as one criterion on which to base their decisions about where to locate. Good schools, good transportation systems, a pool of qualified trained potential employees are more likely to attract employers than reducing taxes for the rich. That’s something neither our republican governor nor the DINOs in the legislature get.

    It’s always struck me as odd that cities like New York and Washington DC (I love the Metro system) are able to construct and maintain a mass transit system, but a state like Rhode Island with a similar expanse to service won’t even consider such a plan.

    So here we have an idea that 1)would provide an alternative to high fuel costs; 2)would help to reduce environmental pollution; and 3) could spur economic development in both the short and long terms.

    This idea has no chance of flying in Rhode Island.

  5. Comment to Noted Skeptic-
    If we had a mass transit system in RI, the snow storm in December would not be remembered as the day the state highway system came to a stop. You obvously do not care about the parents that sat at home wondering where their children were that day. Seeing that we are the smallest state- imagine the piublicity when we can state that 80-90% of our population uses mass transit. Shouldn’t be too hard to get that number fairly high.

    As to you comment- drill here, drill now, pay less- Why not spend the effort on alternate energy sources- Japan announced a car that runs on water. Americans used to lead in creativity and inventions.

  6. I am not opposed to drilling for oil in ANWR or off our coasts.I just believe mass transit is needed regardless of oil supplies.
    One reason for urban unemployment is the relocation of large employers to outlying areas combined with the reduction of mass transit services,particularly those based on rail.The Riverside line in Boston is a notable exception,built in 1959 and connecting inner city Boston with RT 128-the new center of industrial developement in the area.
    A transit map of Massachusetts in the 1920′s would show numerous connections between cities and suburban/rural areas serviced by such systems as the Mass Northeastern,Berkshire Street Railway,Eastern Mass Street Railway ,Bay State Railways,etc.Any state you care to pick would show the same pattern.
    Chicago showed foresight by placing rapid transit lines in the median of major highways and thereby providing mixed use of a single transportation corridor and consequently displacing fewer people.

  7. I commute from Warwick to Boston. I drive up to Attleboro to catch the commuter rail.

    I have been hearing it for at least a decade now that TF Green will soon have a stop.

    What is the hold up on this plan?

    I know that Massachusetts has been wanting to have the commuter rail go thru Fall River and New Bedford for just as long.

    And another point, Rhode Island already had a train system that linked Newport to Providence and Boston and New York City back during the early 1900′s.

    All the newer train systems are electric-powered so you do not have to worry about emissions and the rising cost of oil. And because they are electric, they can run very quietly.

    They are fast and some can get as fast as a jetliner (see the Japanese Maglev).

    Build it and they will come!

  8. Ed, I don’t think that the Noted Skeptic gave a seconds thought to the parents who waited anxiously for their children to return home this past December when he posted his mindless diatribe. “Drill here, drill now, pay less”??? Instead of voicing empty complaints in a sophmoric manner, the Skeptic should take the time and effort that Andre, Geoff, Joe and yourself took and offer up alternatives to the current mindset that has our nation addicted to petroleum and it’s by products.
    Along the lines of the Japanese h2o powered vehicle, Israel’s electric car business is booming. Gas stations are being replaced with battery swap-out stations, construction jobs are being created, and the government is offering huge incentives to citizens to purchase these electric cars. Currently the batteries need to be swapped out every 125-150 miles…the concept could work in this country too, but I would imagine that the 125-150
    swap out range would have to increase to roughly 350-400 miles to be practical here. Approximately 25 years ago GM (believe it or not) actually offered the United States Postal Service a chance to purchase an entire fleet of electric city-delivery vehicles. At the time, early 1980′s, the Postal Service suffered from a short term memory lapse, failing to remember the OPEC embargo in the 70′s. Today, when the price of gas increases by just 1 cent, the cost for the Postal Service to run it’s vehicles increases 1.8 million dollars a day. Now that is an example of a government agency/program lacking foresight.

  9. my mother tells me that Blackstone Blvd is a former trolley line, and my great-grandfather was a trolley conductor. the trolley went from Providence to Warwick where people enjoyed the amusements at Oakland Beach.
    i take the bus when it is going where i want, but every time they cut the schedule it gets harder.

  10. This has long been one of my hobbyhorses. Mass transit, if done right, works. Part of the problem is that we have to get over the idea that mass transit necessarily has to be self-financing. Highways aren’t exactly self-financing after all. Rather, we should look at this as something of a public facility, something that makes life easier and better for all of us.

    One problem with RIPTA is that the lack of frequent buses drives away ridership, which drives up the cost and leads to service cuts, which drives down the ridership, which….you get the idea. It’s a self-reinforcing downward spiral.

    The whole idea that drilling in ANWR, or elsewhere is a solution is ludicrous. We need alternatives. And we need to re-think our priorities. Our culture of wretched excess is simply not sustainable. 4,000 sq ft homes, and 6,000 lb vehicles do nothing but drive up the cost of living for everyone. Low-density housing is particularly inimical to effective transit.

    The good news is that Cranston is actually compact enough that it wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a viable system.

  11. Noted Skeptic

    Ed and Richard, if Providence had a competent Mayor those kids would never have been stranded. I rode the MBTA for a stretch. Weather, any kind, too hot, too cold, heavy rain, snow … all caused rediculous delays. If it’s government run or subsidized, it is likely to be inefficient. If its run by Cicilline, might as well call it broken from the start.

    I’ve had plenty of experience with mass transit. One of the main reasons it works so well is they never built the highways.

    Maybe we never should have put in the interstate system… tell that to the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO and their D.C. lobbyists

  12. Noted Skeptic

    “One of the main reasons it works so well in Europe

  13. Richard Brown

    Klaus,
    I agree that the idea of drilling in ANWR is repulsive and does not in any way shape or form help us in easing our dependency on oil, either foreign or domestic. The problems with RIPTA go beyond those already mentioned in this thread( Joe mentioned the emmissions and the limited life expectancy of buses), RIPTA as presently designed is subject to the same dizzying spikes in gas prices that have nearly crippled our nation’s economy.
    We are a culture of excess Klaus, I agree, and so were the Romans… but if any society that has graced the face of the earth can pull itself out of a self-induced death spiral, I believe that we can. It will take sacrifice, determination, innovation, patience and a compromise/constriction of our overindulgent lifestyles.
    Stimulate the economy; buy an American made hybrid, buy a bicycle, buy a good pair of New Balance and meet Andre at the new Cranston Providence Line Train Station at the former site of the NHD on Cranston Street…suburban renewal meets mass transit.

  14. Thank you for posting my letter to the editor. I am humbled and the responses have been great.

    “Noted Skeptic” should have chosen “Daniel Plainview” as a pseudonym.

    We can drill every sqaure inch of this great nation and still the supply of crude would never meet the ever growing demands of the world.

  15. The comment about the MBTA breaking down in bad weather may be true.That is a management issue,not an inherent problem of the rail /electric transit concept.
    When I lived in Chicago,the late George Krambles ran operations for the CTA-we had a LOT of snowstorms-and the first thing you’d see on tv was Krambles at the CTA operations center running things.He knew where every train was.mr.Krambles loved transit-he was not only a manager,but a “transit buff”-he wrote historical books on trolley lines.Such dedicated public servants are what is needed more than the right hardware,which doesn’t hurt either.Krambles wasn’t just a manager,he lived transit and knew every detail.The bottom was that although the buses would get stuck,the rapid transit,most of it in the open,kept on running in all the blizzards.
    Nancy-My uncle Fred was a conductor on the old BMT lines and later the Transit Authority in NYC-he worked on the Myrtle Avenue for many years when they had the open gate wooden cars which I loved to ride.The conductor had to open the gates on each car manually-very labor intensive.
    You are right about Blackstone Blvd.-there is a great trade paperback by our own Professor Scott Molloy of URI called “All Aboard”-The History of Mass Transit in Rhode Island-it is published by Arcadia Press and is very reasonably priced. Scott is a former RIPTA driver with a Phd-an academic with dirt under his fingernails.Very hard to find on many campuses.
    As a real conservative,I was saddened to see the els,trolleys,and electric buses disappear from Brooklyn as I was growing up.Even as a kid i knew it was a mistake to get rid of them.

  16. Rick,

    Just to clarify: I think drilling in ANWR is ludicrous because there’s not enough oil there to make a difference in the price. Relatively speaking, it’s a drop in the bucket. But it’s been held out as the Holy Grail that will solve all our problems.

    I just read this today: The US uses about 25% of all oil produced, but we have only about 3% of the reserves. We cannot drill our way out of this. And that 3% includes the offshore oil that Bush now wants to exploit. Except George II said something very different when Jeb was gov of FLA, and Jeb was opposed to drilling off the FLA coast because developers were afraid it would spoil the beaches amd wreck their investments in shoreline property.

  17. Klaus is correct, we cannot drill our way out to energy independence.

    Besides a robust public mass-transit system, we must build our homes, workplaces and communities in a more efficient manner and reverse urban sprawl.

    An immediate act would be to mandate that nonessential federal, state and municipal offices move to a 10-hour/4-day workweek and eliminate Saturday postal delivery.

    There are other simple steps like encouraging things like carpooling and telecommuting.

    And of course, alternative energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave, and even nuclear power.

    That’s how we solve the problem, by doing everything and anything practical to reduce the current and future demand for oil and gasoline.

  18. joe bernstein

    Geothermal power is nice-clean steam and hot water-the people in Iceland heat their homes for virtully nothing and have no collateral pollution.Only one hitch with geothermal power-it means you are sitting on a volcanic zone.Nothing is really free it seems.

  19. info on geothermal – link

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