Creating a Passenger Rail Network for the Piedmont-Atlantic Megaregion Using City Ranking Criteria

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Murray, Drew
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We face many issues today. In an ever-flattening global landscape, emerging opportunities are as bountiful as new challenges. Among these are health, energy, economy, equity, mobility, equality, and sustainability. Virtually every twenty-first century issue overlaps with other perplexities, though not always noticeable on the surface. Personal mobility is as inter-connected through each modern challenge as is its physical origins and destinations. Human activity no longer limits movement within political-jurisdictions whether local or national. As political systems endure, they must participate globally by developing infrastructure systems which build functionality. Regardless of whether encouragement to participate is competitive or cooperative, current transportation systems desperately need to be improved to accommodate modern mobility needs. America is behind in this regard – that is relative to its importance in the global arena. The European Union and Eastern Asia are leading the world in creating mobility systems that will be sustainable for the emerging era (Contant and Leone de Nie, 2009). Additionally, both have an advantage in political structures which accommodate comprehensive thinking over local individualism (Faludi, 2009). This is a serious challenge for the United States with outdated infrastructure that is either over-capacity or no longer relevant. Vulnerable to the volatility of oil prices, America’s system also accounts for weekly congestion costs in the billions due to wasted gasoline and lost productivity hours (American Public Works Association, 2009). With a system that is unsustainable and already losing functionality, one would think that infrastructure investment would be eminent. Unfortunately, few people are aware of the implications that this current dilemma actually represents beyond personal convenience. America needs a transportation system that works and a significant part of that framework will consist of a comprehensive passenger rail network which will connect all urban centers providing equitable access, efficient mobility, energy independence and economic freedom. Many current proposals to introduce passenger rail back into the American mainstream will not be sustainable over time. Many current plans propose reusing bicentennially dated track networks to save on capital costs; but are these approaches wise since many station locations may occupy large cities of the past which are no longer considered globally significant today? Many historic urban centers yesterday are small towns today and the potential economic development outcomes do not address the needs of where people live today and where they will need to travel tomorrow.
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