High Speed Rail Made in Germany – The InterCity Express

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High Speed Rail Made in Germany - The InterCity ExpressThe first stop on the international showcase of high speed rail that I am writing for CleanTechies, will be in Germany. As much as I try to avoid writing in first-person narrative, this topic is quite close to my heart as Germany (where I lived for most of 2002-2003) is where my eyes were opened to how great public transportation can be and how it’s presence or absence severely affects quality of life.

The calamitous state of transportation in the US became apparent when I returned to my old Pennsylvanian home. Being thrust back into the car-dependent nightmare is still the source of much of my angst to this day.

Deutsch: Durch Erfahrung wird man klug.

English: Through experience man becomes clever.

It is my highest possible recommendation to go to Deutschland and zip around on their stellar 300 km/hour ICE (InterCity Express) trains. Take in the sights while enjoying a cold Franziskaner and dream of the day when you can travel with such ease in the good old US of A (be sure to save up beforehand because our dollar is pretty worthless over there). Amenities abound with roomy reclining seats, air-conditioning, wi-fi access, a full bistro and a television if you want to spring for first class. Long distance ICE trains can move you about the country at great speeds and seamlessly connect you to the transportation networks of cities. For example, the ICE feeds into Berlin’s ultramodern main train station and can get a traveler to anywhere in the capital via subway (U-Bahn), elevated train (S-Bahn) or by bus. Lehrter Bahnhof is a model of integrated transport.

Why do Germans get to have cool stuff like these sleek trains and other useful knick-knacks like health care and free higher education while millions of Americans do not have access to public transportation, go uninsured and face a mountain of debt if they chose to get a higher education? It boils down to one word: Solidarity

Solidarity is a German core value whereas in America the concept does not exist. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an obvious fact when you compare any number of aspects of German and American society when it comes to the rich and the rest. Public transportation is simply the most obvious case, but many other very important societal issues follow the same path.

The previous paragraph is where conservatives of the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh crowd (which number in the millions) gets irate when it is pointed out that their ethos is not to care about anyone else but themselves. You hate freedom if you think it is sensible to tax the über-wealthy to build infrastructure that would benefit the rabble that make less than $1,000,000 a year. Irrelevant that taxing the ludicrously rich will improve mobility, create jobs, eliminate car-related overhead for lower-income individuals, reduce pollution, increase productivity by reducing time lost in traffic and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

That is the difference. Not money nor technological expertise, but a simple societal value allows German citizens to have access to world-class public transportation and leaves Americans with pathetic, nearly non-existent mass transit. It is time Americans realized that we need to work together on some level regardless of socio-economic background. Great American thinker/genius John Nash (an American) thought so.

Have the lessons of A Beautiful Mind already been forgotten? Adam Smith needs revision:

“The best result will come from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself… and the group!”

[photo credit: Deutsche Bahn AG]

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  • http://fentonh@gmail.com Fenton Heirtzler

    This is so….true. I lived in Germany for four years and did not need to touch a car once. And after having to lurch through southeastern Pennsylvania in a car, it becomes even more true.

    American politicians, on the other hand, usually only want public works projects of the type in France or Germany if it will increase their chances of re-election (“shovel ready jobs” Puh-lease)

    But, not all is bad: in New Jersey, across from Philadelphia where I now live, we have the RiverLine light rail. It costs $ 1.35 to travel its entire length, i.e., from Trenton to Camden. The rail cars? Made in Switzerland: modern, aesthetic, well-lit and quiet. The system is the pride of the region…it is well-known and -used. It seems to me that it’s accepted that it’s OK to subsidize it as well. Current budgetary plans are to expand it as well.

    Why can’t Americans make something as beautiful as this everywhere?

    schöne Grüsse

    Fenton

  • http://hswami@gmail.com Hari Swaminathan

    Having been on the ICE trains, I completely agree with the author – these trains are awesome, they’re fast, convenient, on time and luxurious. But its wrong to pin all of America’s problems on the rich or conservatives. America’s infrastructure was built on the premise that fossil fuels were plenty, safe, and the pursuit of happiness and freedom meant people should own vehicles for all purposes and drive on massive freeways across the country. We built towns that were spread out, again on the premise that cheap gas and excellent highway connectivity would overshadow the negative impacts. For several decades, this was the envy of the world. But now, things have changed. Revamping this fossil fuel infrastructure is not a simple task, but Obama’s funding for rail projects is a start. It might take a decade or two for high class rail infrastructure to come in, but getting the mindset to change might be a larger challenge.

  • http://www.ecotransitions.com Andrea Paulinelli

    Great, great article – Thank you.

    I grew up in Germany and lived there for 33 years. Although I love this country I struggle a lot with issues like this. In Atlanta, where I live, there are not even sidewalks or bikepaths in most parts of town, so having to drive EVERYWHERE drives me insane! There is not even anything close to a public transportation system available.

    Best,

    Andrea Paulinelli