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Can the Auto Industry Retool Itself To Build Rails?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the cross-training dept.

Transportation 897

knapper_tech writes "The scope of the auto industry troubles continues to increase in magnitude. The call to retool and develop new vehicles has been made several times already, but with all of the challenges from labor prices and foreign competition, how exactly can the industry retool itself to be more competitive? In light of superior competition facing losses, there doesn't seem to be enough room in the industry moving forward. In the context of finding a new place in the auto industry, the future isn't bright. Calls for no disorderly collapse of the cash-strapped big three and a reluctant congress can only point to an underlying lack of direction. However, consider two other standing economic challenges. The airlines have continued to struggle due to fuel prices and heightened security. Consumers backed off of SUV's due to high fuel prices, and while those prices have eased in the face of global recession, the trend will pick up again with growth in China and India leading the fight for resources. In short, things are moving less, and the industries that support the movement are in need of developing new products while consumers are in need of a cheaper method of transportation." Read on for the rest of knapper_tech's thoughts.knapper_tech continues:
"Looking abroad, it's clear the US has far less invested in local and regional rail systems. With regard to high-speed rail systems, the US is conspicuously behind. France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h. China operates the world's first commercial maglev line while the famous Japanese Shinkasen goes without mentioning. In the US there is only one line in operation between DC and Boston with a few more planned as a result of the 2008 election in California.

The traditional barrier to implementation of rail systems is the initial investment costs, but in the context of economic stimulus, such investment sinks are actually desirable. The auto industry has clearly taken note with proposals from companies like Caterpillar for huge new infrastructure projects.

A friend who recently bought a house observed that real-estate prices are on the rise nearer to city centers, where the fallout of mortgage problems and expensive, time-consuming drives from the suburbs can be avoided. Recalling the huge number of urban revitalization plans and efforts to increase the viability of older city centers, it seems as though many municipal governments would also be in line to gain from the added density of rail systems and increased activity they can support in downtown areas.

Putting it all together, it seems like now would be a good time to direct the industrial capacity of the automotive and supporting industries to developing local and regional, high-speed rail systems to provide a more efficient and effective infrastructure basis for US cities while essentially creating a new market where competition from foreign car manufacturers will not be a problem. At the same time, a huge labor force would be required. The task would call for engineers for development, factory workers for manufacturing, operators, and maintenance workers. Caterpillar still gets to sell construction equipment. The inevitable stream of stores popping up around stations would provide new commercial areas. Last-mile bus and taxi services would also have a new place. The list goes on.

Besides the savings in fuel, the US could also gain international prestige and possibly help lead China and India away from our mistakes, helping to stem the rising demand for oil globally and avoiding the attendant international tension. Climate change is yet another win in this scenario.

It seems like we're not exactly headed in that direction, and I'm curious to see what Slashdot readers think of all this. What pieces need to be in place to make the investments pay off? What are additional resources that are required? Can the industries really make such a change of direction? Do we have everything we need in the US? How would such systems work out long term? Would the initial investments be able to pick up fast enough to stimulate the economy?"

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Yes, (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238091)

Since the auto industry in the US is run by a bunch of tools.

SUVs (4, Insightful)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238121)

I think that SUVs really say it all. An SUV is a gass-guzzling inefficient monstrosity of a car, yet its name "sports-utility vehicle" is meant to convey fun times and yet excellent functionality. Consumers were taken in for some time, but then they realised they'd been duped.

Now U.S. car companies are paying the price for trying to satisfy the market. The market has now moved on, and the car companies are are left with... SUVs.

Re:SUVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238183)

which is good because SUV sales are on the rise again!
and hybrid sales are down. death to hybrid drivers.

Re:SUVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238333)

And I'm going to feel SOOOO bad for these chumps when the gas price goes back up. *this is me playing the worlds smallest violin*. Oh you can't aford gas? Tragic.

            OK while I'm on the topic, I have to tell you a funny story.. a coworker I used to work with, he bought like a 1985 Suburban (454, 3-speed). It was pretty cheap, like $500. He gets SHIT pay. He drove it from his home to work... that was it, he went through $10 in gas, he couldn't manage to save up the $10 to fill it back up and drive it back from work to home again (when he gets money he buys beer.. so no gas money). He never did get it out of the work lot, until he sold it.

Re:SUVs (1)

prndll (1425091) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238385)

The thing that makes that so funny is that he bought something for $500 when he can't even afford $10. But, as gas prices go up (and they likely will), how high does the prices have to be before a prius would go through that same $10 for a one way trip to work? Do you think that will never happen?

Re:SUVs (0, Offtopic)

prndll (1425091) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238319)

You don't get it (that much is obvious). Now, I know you specified "SUV". But, the term "SUV" is nothing more than a buzzword. There is a much bigger picture here. Your only seeing a single slice. You refer to "...gass-guzzling inefficient monstrosity...". That is what many people think of when they talk about trucks. Have you stopped to consider what would happen if we lost our trucks? NOTHING would get built. I remember seeing a picture floating around on the net some years ago of someone trying to carry a full load of lumber using a small front wheel drive car. It looked pathetic and it pretty much destroyed the car. I guess if it were upto you, construction companies would only be allowed to use a the Prius to build buildings and roads or to move building materials around. Where as I know that not all trucks are bought for "work"...many people buy them for no other reason than it's what they want. Well, I'm not putting you down for wanting you prius. I am saying that trucks are not only required but are also wanted. There is nothing wrong with that.

Re:SUVs (5, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238465)

People would be better off renting a truck for a day if they don't haul stuff around at least once a week or so.

Re:SUVs (0, Troll)

prndll (1425091) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238511)

I can see that. That wouldn't be a problem for me to accept. It's just that I also happen to see trucks as being much better built and ultimately safer to drive. You can have what you want. But, I doubt I will ever own another front wheel drive again (only having bought one in my life but driven and worked on hundreds).

Re:SUVs (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238535)

Exactly what I was going to say. You cant compare work trucks that get a lot of rough treatment with the fancy SUVs that city-boys buy so they look cool driving down the blvd. If you *use* a truck/SUV then buy one, but most SUVs never utilize a quarter of their capacity.

Re:SUVs (3, Informative)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238537)

Then how do countries like Japan get their materials around? I think in all my journeys with that country I can count on one hand how many trucks I saw like we see everywhere in the US. Instead they use the far less fashionable box-trucks to get things that last mile. They are used for work, and can carry a whole hell of allot more with allot less waste.

Re:SUVs (5, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238633)

I am saying that trucks are not only required but are also wanted. There is nothing wrong with that.

I beg to differ. What percentage of the population actually does construction? 1%? Probably less. I live in farm country and most people I know drive a truck that gets 12 mpg all the time so they can haul stuff maybe once or twice a month. And that justification gets weaker and weaker as you get closer to town. My former stock broker insisted his wife needed a giant SUV so she didn't have to bend over to lift stuff out of a trunk. Lot of people drive a 12 mpg vehicle all the time so they tow a boat to the lake five or six times over the summer, haul their 4 wheeler out in the woods so they can go hunting. I'm not saying those are bad things, but multiply those flimsy justifications across the nation and it adds up to 25% of the world's gasoline being used by 3% of the world's population. Our economy being dependent on a string of oil tankers stretching around the world and something on the order of $700 billion a year going to countries that don't like us.

So, yeah, there's a lot wrong with that. And that ignorant, short-sighted mentality is what keeps us dependent on foreign oil. That let's us think that drilling more here, not conservation, is the solution. It's a national security issue and you're on the wrong side of the equation.

And I haul lumber behind my sensible sedan that gets 33 mpg all the time. It hasn't broken yet. Once or twice a year there might be something bigger than my car can haul and I slip one my buddies a few bucks to haul it for me...with their giant pickups that get 12 mpg all the time. But I could rent a truck if that wasn't an option. If it's a big enough load of lumber I'd just have the yard deliver it.

Re:SUVs (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238337)

The only people who were "duped" were those who bought an SUV sight-unseen. All the other people who bought SUVs could see they were bloated, wasteful tuna-boats (albeit with better interiors), but they bought them anyway because they were shallow, easily convinced dumbasses.

The American auto industry should not die, but it needs to become much smaller. Fewer Fords and GMs but also fewer Hondas and Toyotas. Cars are almost a monocrop in America. It's dangerous to have so many people and so much GDP centralized in one product sector.

Read up a bit on how the LA trolley lines were sabotaged in the 40s. That's how it started. The car does provide freedom, in spite of that five year loan. The problem is that there is no place to run to anymore.

Re:SUVs are just station wagos (2, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238399)

most SUV's are nothing more than 1970's style station wagons with kits to give it more room off the ground and larger wheels. when rednecks put those big wheels on their trucks the coastal people laughed at them and how stupid they were. the same people are buying station wagons with the same kits and big wheels and paying a huge premium for it and calling them "crossover" SUV's or some other stupid name.

Toyota makes a station wagon version of the Avalon. It's called a Lexus RX and people pay $40,000 and more for it.

Re:SUVs (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238497)

I bought a Jeep and started an oil company.

Problem solved.

Re:SUVs (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238531)

Considering that SUV's where only a small part of Detroit's problem, there is no need to smear the machine. Like it or not some of us drive trucks or SUVs simply because they are very practical modes of transportation. Further some of us simply can't fit into the common compact car, that is certainly poor engineering because I'm only a hair over 6' tall, but highlights that one size doesn't fit all.

The problem with Detroit and the American car makers is that quality sucks, and is barely third would. Unfortunately I've learned this the hard way! Some models are better than other but the over all fleet is a wreck. Frankly I don't think it is even remotely possible for the auto makers to address this with the current union / management arrangements. That is why I fully support the complete destruction of both.


Sometime for something better to evolve what is currently in place needs to die. This might be seen a a Darwinian view on the business but it really is the only solution right now. Give the economy the room to evolve something viable in the place of the current auto industry.

Re:SUVs (4, Insightful)

glyn.phillips (826462) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238547)

Detroit didn't come up with SUVs to dupe anybody. SUVs were popular because of their versatility, perceived sturdiness and their status.

The Big 3 have labor costs about three times higher than other auto makers in America. They also pay pension and health care benefits for about twice as many people as are currently working. In order to make a profit they had to sell large high-priced cars.

The high gas prices scared a lot of people away from SUVs for now, but what Americans want in their cars has not changed.

First of all, the automobile represents freedom. Freedom to go where you want, when you want. You are not tied to mass transit schedules and routes.

Americans still want cars that are status symbols. Even those who buy hybrids do so to show how much they care about the environment.

Americans want cars that are safe and useful. A family of five wants a car that can comfortably haul the family plus a couple of friends plus their stuff.

Re:SUVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238635)

I'll use light rail - If I can bring my SUV with me!

Re:SUVs (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238637)

Some anecdotal information:

Everyone's sales are down BIG [nytimes.com]. Sure - the big three aren't producing the "vehicles that people want to buy", but who is producing them? Anyone?

I live in Detroit (full disclosure: I hate GM more than anything). When the "snooty foreigners" come here, they tend to buy a bigger vehicle - most often an SUV. What I have noticed is that people tend to buy the most that they can afford as a percentage of income. In Europe, they tax the shit out of gas - so people drive smaller vehicles. Maybe we should do that here (perhaps tax gas when prices are low, using the money exclusively for subsidizing electric vehicle tech).

It takes about 5 years to adopt in the automotive industry. If gas prices go up and people suddenly want different vehicles, it takes a while to develop and get them into the dealer lots.

I recently tried to buy a car - something not so small (a Ford Freestyle). Even though my credit score is 765, I was denied a loan. Perhaps the credit crisis (that was caused by the bailed-out aristocrats) is the real cause of the auto crisis (including Toyota et al). Why can't we give 2 percent of $700 billion to the collateral damage here?

If we can subsidize corn to the tune of billions EVERY YEAR - money that tax payers will never get back - then why can't we just make a small attempt at keeping the auto industry around? Surely, this is in the name of national security.

If we go to war and China decides to stop sending us cars, then what exactly happens to our economy?

I don't think so. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238135)

I don't want to share my commute with a bunch of niggers and spicks. Fucking noisy and dangerous colored people have no place in White America.

Re:I don't think so. (1, Funny)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238151)

You should move to Africa, you would find a lot more people to hate.

Re:I don't think so. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238225)

Dont forget to tattoo that post,in the local language, to his forehead.

Fake! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238269)

Everybody knows that niggers can't read or write. All they can do is grunt and click.

Re:I don't think so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238259)

Somebody should dress you up like a catholic schoolgirl, bind and gag you, and drop you into a biker bar about an hour before last call.

Right. (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238139)

Industries that are based on building 2000-10000 pound widgets have no particular reason to start building things that are several orders of magnitude heavier and more expensive. The neighborhood Dodge dealer is going to start selling switching engines?

I think not. You're better off asking Caterpillar to start building rail cars.

Besides, the big problem isn't building the individual rail cars. It's building the infrastructure.

Re:Right. (2, Interesting)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238197)

Besides, the big problem isn't building the individual rail cars. It's building the infrastructure.

THIS! If you want someone to build out rail infrastructure, have someone like Union Pacific or Canadian Northern do it. They have experience maintaining millions of miles of rail.

Re:Right. (0)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238203)

Well in that case we need to come up with a national standard rail type, and then they could churn out thousands of pieces of track and rail cars. Obviously certain places would need custom shaped rails, but certainly miles and miles of it are going to be standard straight lengths and curves.

I'm not saying we should force it upon the automakers. Simply come up with the specs, start taking bids for manufacturing quantities of rail track and cars, and gently suggest to the automakers that while we don't think we can just give them money so they stay in business, we will gladly hire them to build our trains.

Re:Right. (4, Informative)

gorehog (534288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238387)

We have a national standard rail type. It has been in use since the mid 1800's. The size of the rails, the width between them, the specification for the ties between the rails, the grade of bend, this is all well known and established engineering. It worked so smoothly that before there were telegraphs steam locomotives could run from one company's tracks to another all the way across the country. Except in a few cases for things like trollies, subways, mines, and certain special gear tooth railways.

Moreover, some of the most important cultural stories in the USA are about planning railroads. Which towns would survive? Which would die? Which would thrive? Who's farm would be destroyed? All of this was once done and settled until Reagan killed the railroads.

Re:Right. (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238233)

I agree, and in building the infrastructure there are several problems
-project planning (long-term).
-providing money (there are not many companies on which bank you can rely in financing a billion dollar project reliably)
-experience in overcoming political troubles

But i think you can easily convert the engineering departments
-they have similar standards in quality control
-similar problems (vibrations, heat, lack of space)
-similar focus on safety

but if you take away the engineer from building cars, then you can also shut down the companies directly.

Re:Right. (2, Interesting)

gorehog (534288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238343)

Mmm, I want to correct you by changing the word building to rebuilding. When I was in my late teens and early 20's there was a massive project in Orange County, NY (yep, Orange County Choppers) to rip up unused rail lines and make the old railroad beds inaccessible.

We used to have a massive rail infrastructure in the USA. The neo-con revolution killed it when Reagan made the point of gutting social infrastructure.

Re:Right. (1)

Darkk (1296127) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238559)

Ever see the movie "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise? They showed a much needed transportation system that is actually personalized to the individual and yet managed by systems to keep things flowing properly.

Each have their own transport pod that ties into the rail systems for speed and efficiency.

Just wish it's here sooner because it's badly needed in large cities.

I don't mind taking the trains but be nicer if my car can drive itself and be super efficient.

Least for now my 2006 Honda Civic will have to do.

The Electric Lane - Charge while driving (3, Insightful)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238187)

A major problem with electric vehicles is the weight of batteries. My suggestion is to build "electric lanes" on major highways. These would supply power to electric cars as they drive along, and so give them more range. Locally in cities, or at the home end of trips, you would use internal batteries.

If you can supply more power than the car is using, you can "charge while driving" and top off the internal batteries.

The way to transfer power to the cars (sliding contacts, induction coils buried in the road, etc), safety, and payment features are left as jobs for smart engineers.

Re:The Electric Lane - Charge while driving (1)

D_Blackthorne (1412855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238271)

My suggestion is to build "electric lanes" on major highways

See previous takes on "problems building infrastructure". I've heard this idea I don't know HOW many times before, and it's a fine idea -- for a science fiction novel.

How about over head power like high speed rail and (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238313)

How about over head power like high speed rail and some bus systems?

Re:How about over head power like high speed rail (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238489)

How about over head power like high speed rail and some bus systems?

Great idea. You could get ready built electric cars from a fair ground.

Re:The Electric Lane - Charge while driving (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238353)

The nearby potholes would be a pain in the ass for the technicians though. (But then, overly easy-potting roads already are.)

Try fuel cells (4, Interesting)

gorehog (534288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238435)

Are you serious? No, really, I wonder if you mean what you say.

Fuel cells are a few engineering problems away from being a viable solution for electric driving.

1)Any problem with the fuel cell unit itself can be solved with the application of money for engineering. It's all solvable, it just needs an investment of effort which translates into money.

2)To the whiners who say "We don't have a hydrogen infrastructure" I reply with this: Hydrogen can be produced ANYWHERE there is water and electricity. Every gas station in the civilized world has WATER and ELECTRICITY. All we need to do is drop an electrolysis station in their parking lot. This can be containerized and done with tractor trailers.

The whole problem right now can be solved with an investment that is far less than the banks needed. Less than the big 3 automakers requested. It would place our nation in the forefront of the energy industry and make us financially and strategically secure for the next century.

Or we can sit on our asses.

Re:Try fuel cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238501)

your idea has merit but its easier to sit on our asses.
so lets do that.

Re:The Electric Lane - Charge while driving (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238521)

electrical resistance is the big problem there I think. long distances cause power transmission issues.

You are an idiot (1, Troll)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238191)

So you want to apply resources in a sub optimal way (We couldn't do it normally - but now that we are looking to waste money on make work projects) doesn't seem to be the way to work your way out of a recession. Sadly - it seems the way that people seem to be heading.

Remember boys and girls - it wasn't the market crash that caused the great depression - it was the governments reaction to it (closing borders to imports and creating make work projects with the huge public work projects of the 30's) that created the great depression.

What do you want to happen. A short deep recession - or the lost decade of the 2010's (see Japan in the 90's or the USA of the 1930's). Lets see the most optimal use of resources - if it isn't, it won't help.

Re:You are an idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238277)

if we're already going to bail out the auto industry, we might as well make sure they deliver something in return, such as rails.

In other words, "Here's your 40bn. They're covered in 'catch' -- build rail for 15bn and we'll call it even."

Re:You are an idiot (2, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238445)

It's not necessarily sub-optimal. It may well be that the extreme emphasis on short term ROI has resulted in sub-optimal short term 'solutions' winning over the more optimal long term solution.

Meanwhile, various industry lobbiests such as airlines and aerospace manufacturers certainly haven't been encouraging a high speed rail program.

A strong drive for economic stimulus connected with workforce availability make this a good time to re-consider. Such programs are much harder to pull off politically when you're hiring people away from existing employers and the economy seems to be expanding nicely on it's own (even if the expansion is largely illusory).

It's notable that a number of those public works programs from the '30s are still paying dividends today.

You are an idiot (3, Insightful)

gorehog (534288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238485)

This Fox News meme about "government programs causing the great depression" is ignorance in action. It only showed up recently as some Rovian talking point.

Fact is that it was a combination of poor free market regulation and then the Dust Bowl disaster that threw things into disarray.

Try getting facts from someplace other than the Morning Zoo Croo.

They Killed the Rails (3, Insightful)

retech (1228598) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238195)

Seeing that they killed the rails, why would they want to build them?

Seriously, Detroit and SE MI used to have trains, cable cars, etc. But they were killed off so that everyone would buy a car.

They wanted to make a world with only cars. They can flounder in the world they made. Let some new business spring up and seize the chance to build. Let the automakers die off.

No, because Americans want cars, not mass transit (5, Insightful)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238227)

You have the cart before the horse. Customers define the market, not the business. First rule of business isn't starting with a good idea, it's doing market research and seeing what people will buy (how's that world-changing Segway selling?). If GM can't sell Americans what they want at a profit (cars) how the hell can they sell them something they don't want? The Big 3 should be emulating Honda, not Amrtrak.

The solution is not a bailout, by rewarding the same failed business model, but for the Big 3 to declare bankruptcy, shed their ridiculous labor costs (and spare me UAW's FUD and disinformation campaign, already heard it), and actually start making a profit per vehicle again - like all the other "American" auto companies (Toyota, Honda) have done in states outside of UAW's thumb.

Re:No, because Americans want cars, not mass trans (0, Offtopic)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238287)

yup, i agree more with your comments about the UAW, the UAW milked the big three for all its worth and now that the cow has run dry they are crying for the government to bail them out, i say fsck the UAW and force the big thee in to bankruptcy then they can wipe all those exorbitant union contracts away and then start from scratch without the UAW even being in the picture anymore, the workers can quit being UAW members and work for wages like the rest of the US workers get in other non-union factories...

Re:No, because Americans want cars, not mass trans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238549)

Where were all you people when we were bailing out Wall Street? What I don't get is why the middle class constantly attacks itself. Have we been sold that the American dream is to get rich and step on the little guy?

Re:No, because Americans want cars, not mass trans (1, Troll)

tehchfortruth (1439497) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238553)

Shut the fuck up...I am sick of all of these right wing talking points about the UAW. Get your lazy ass up and work a 40 hour week with your hands on an assembly line and come back here bitching about the UAW... you sorry motherfucker. It is all about living wages.. You cant have an ecaonomy that is total sevice based...cry cleaning...yard and IT just wont cut it..you have to have a heavy industrial base... Would you like some fries with that? Bitch

Re:No, because Americans want cars, not mass trans (0, Troll)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238461)

Customers define the market, not the business. First rule of business isn't starting with a good idea, it's doing market research and seeing what people will buy (how's that world-changing Segway selling?).

Steve Jobs would disagree with you and he has the sucess to prove it.

I would as well. When making a breakthrough product, don't rely on too much market research. People tend to limit themselves to what they already know. Lots of people who crapped on the iPhone when it first appeared now own one. Market research is great for refining an existing product, but not for breakthrough product DESIGN.

By it's nature, breakthrough products are a gamble and not a science.

Re:No, because Americans want cars, not mass trans (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238473)

I agree with the first paragraph... I have no desire to wait around for a train to show up. Of course, the submitter of the story wants us all to live in urban environments, but alas, this is not the case for most of the US.

The second paragraph is flame-bait. No links? Foreign car manufacturers even in the US are subsidized far more than US counterparts. That's not FUD, it's a simple fact. Inside the US, they are subsidized. [goodjobsfirst.org]

"Spare me?" Is that an argument? Mod this down.

The solution is obvious (2, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238261)

...but with all of the challenges from labor prices and foreign competition, how exactly can the industry retool itself to be more competitive?...

To me, the solution is and has always been simple and it's just one solution:

Build cars that people want to buy.

What are the metrics that will bring about this? Here is how: -

1: Build cars that are appealing to the eye. I mean, cars that are as beautiful to look at as they are beautiful to sit into.

2: Build cars that do not break just after their warranty mileage.

3: Build cars that are easy to repair...cars that even the Joe Six Pack will "understand."

4: Build cars that have excellent resale value. Not cars that lose 50% of their value in 1 year.

5: Build plants in USA. What these giants are doing is to close plants here while opening others in China in order to export to the USA. Absurd! Focusing on [short term] profits.

This is a quote from one auto industry insider GM/Ford and Chrysler were so short sighted! This is what they did: -

"...[They] created multiple versions of every product under a bunch of different brand names, hoping that if buyers shun one, they'll take a more favorable view of another..."

This is customers message to Detroit: "Consumers aren't that stupid. Give them a bit more credit, and you might have a future."

Re:The solution is obvious (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238413)

GM is slowly getting the idea. Pontiac is probably going to be folded. Saturn may get the same treatment. GM may end up with four distinct lines catering to four distinct market segments: Chevrolet (budget cars), Buick (medium-range), and Cadillac (high-end) cars, and GMC for the trucks. Saturn and Pontiac mostly feed off of Chevy's customers, and as much as I liked Saturn back in its first few years, it's become mostly just another division.

Re:The solution is obvious (3, Insightful)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238595)

Chrysler, Ford and GM can't build small cars and make a profit. That's a HUGE problem. They have to build large cars like SUV's because they have enormous labor costs. The only way they can make a profit is by making larger items with less labor cost and more material cost per vehicle because their non-labor costs are still competitive. They have preexisting contracts that the UAW got them into by squeezing their nuts hard enough. There's not much that can be done.

Rail industry can handle itself (2, Informative)

etymxris (121288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238265)

The rail industry regularly repairs/replaces cars and rails. They are in a better position to lay down new infrastructure. They already have the plans all laid out for new infrastructure, and it would be a viable investment for them if they had a little financial help from the government--the amount of financial help needed being much less than has been allocated to various industry loans.

And this is just for freight rails. We can start looking at passenger rails again when Amtrak starts making a profit.

A surgeon would just cut out the cancer. (5, Insightful)

Cordath (581672) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238267)

The problem with the big auto companies, like GM, is that for every dollar they pay in salary to workers, they pay two for benefits and pension plans. Their labor costs are absolutely horrendous. The rest of their operations are similarly inefficient. They're going to have a real tough time competing no matter what they make.

Personally, I say let the big auto companies die. It's going to be a clusterfuck, but we can't just keep bailing them out year after year. Remember, the current dire state of affairs has come about after a decade of prosperity, and this isn't the first bunch of government cash they've asked for and gotten(in Canada at least)! The important thing is to find a way to keep workers employed and parts companies in business.

What is needed is not more of the same incompetence from the big 3. What is needed is for proven companies who know what they're doing in their respective industries to take over the auto plants. It's not very enticing though. These plants have the wrong equipment and the auto unions will probably make all sorts of trouble for them. This is where the money saved not bailing out the big 3 again and again can be used to offer incentives to lure these companies in. Likewise, parts companies that are run competently should receive short-term loans to help them transition to working with these new industries. Government intervention should be used like a surgeon's scalpel. Cut out the cancer and reroute blood to the healthy tissue.

Re:A surgeon would just cut out the cancer. (0, Offtopic)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238327)

i wish i had mod points, i would bump your comment up + eleventy billion +

Funny thing about those retirement packages (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238557)

Interestingly, at one time I seem to recall the Right claiming that pensions and employer provided health plans etc. were the 'right' way to do it. Supposedly, such plans negated the need for national health care and social security plans above the subsistence level.

Looks like that's not all that viable after all.

The next 'great idea' was to put retirement funds into mutual funds and other such investments. Ooops, wrong again! Please enjoy your Gains Burgers. Gotta polish the yacht now!

Emulation of failure is not an option (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238275)

This sounds like rambling Keynesianism mixed with dirigisme to me. Do you really want to combine the two most discredited (and overlapping) economic theories in an attempt to minimize a depression caused by the colluding ghosts of both?

Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238285)

The auto-industry should completely retool to build rail systems!

Also, airline manufacturers should retool to build cars, and while we're at it, naval shipyards should retool to build cars, and train companies should build bicycles!

Seriously, has the OP actually thought about what he's saying?

Build more bicycles.. (3, Insightful)

D_Blackthorne (1412855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238291)

..and solve three problems at once: Zero emissions, doesn't require fossil fuels, and more people will get off their fat lazy butts and get the exercise they NEED to be a reasonable weight and otherwise healthy.

Re:Build more bicycles.. (2, Interesting)

uffe_nordholm (1187961) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238481)

I agree with you, and I am looking into getting myself a recumbent with which to commute to work. According to what I hear, an average speed of 40 km/h (25mph) would be 'normal', meaning it would take me half an hour to work. That's only ten minutes more than by car, and by far cheaper... And no parking problems either!

Re:Build more bicycles.. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238605)

Oh, don't forget these benefits: reduced traffic footprint, less wear on the road, and fewer dangerous accidents. Of course too many cities are poorly planned and sprawltastic. If bicycling is going to work for everyone, jobs need to be closer to people's homes, as well as Grocery stores, community centers, etc.

Energy efficiency will win... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238359)

And pound per pound, nothing's more efficient than moving large quantities of mass than rail. Anyone who thinks the era of happy motoring is going to last more than another decade or two has probably not been paying attention to the rate at which oil fields are declining. Oil is cheap *today*, but not tomorrow.

Just replacing one money pit with another (1)

kaufmanmoore (930593) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238361)

The auto companies would then ask for more tax money so they could retool but we already have a railroad money pit called Amtrak. It receives over $2 billion a year in federal money alone. Highways cost us $.01 per passenger mile while Amtrak costs $.22 per passenger mile, which one is more efficient use of tax dollars?

They got what they deserved (2, Informative)

hilather (1079603) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238375)

The auto industry has been pushing their weight around for years to prevent hybrids and alternative power for vehicles. Obviously they were unwilling to change their ways and try to help the environment. Hopefully new companies will emerge that will be more open to innovation.

California's high-speed rail system (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238377)

In the US there is only one line in operation between DC and Boston with a few more planned as a result of the 2008 election in California.

California's high-speed rail system isn't expected to be completed for at least another 21 years with the first operational segment not going live until sometime between 2019 and 2021, and at a cost of somewhere between $45 billion and $81 billion, depending on whose estimates you use. If $20 from every ticket were used to repay the construction costs using the lower figure, and if the ridership were at the upper end of the estimates (95 million per year), it would take about 23 years to repay. Other estimates suggest as few as 23 million riders per year, and if the upper cost estimate were used, it would take 176 years to repay the costs. Odds are that it will come in somewhere in between, but that's a very wide range with which to contend.

Aside from that, judging by the list of potential stops [wikipedia.org], there won't be time to get the train up to anything resembling "high speed" for the most commonly-used stops.

Extremely unprofitable (4, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238383)

I pay $160 for a monthly pass on the local commuter rail line (VRE in northern Virginia). They're increasing fares by 7% next month, and they're still heavily subsidized by both the state and federal governments.

The population distribution in most of the US is simply not geared toward passenger rail except possibly at the local level (i.e., subway/light rail). This isn't Europe, and you can't necessarily repeat the same things that work in Europe and expect them to work here also.

Re:Extremely unprofitable (1)

HobophobE (101209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238561)

Err, the road construction isn't heavily subsidized?

While I agree we can't just build a whole rail system overnight, I think there are places it makes a lot of sense (especially to take some burden off of heavy-traffic roads).

But no, I don't buy the subsidy argument when we're subsidizing the current system (and paying a lot of hidden costs to boot) already.

Re:Extremely unprofitable (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238617)

Err, the road construction isn't heavily subsidized?

Paid for almost exclusively by gasoline taxes. Which is nominally what they're for, so things seem to work out nicely that way.

Re:Extremely unprofitable (1)

HobophobE (101209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238645)

Which is, go figure, no different than an equivalent use-tax on public transportation.

Re:Extremely unprofitable (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238619)

Germany has 357k km^2 land and 82M population. It has one of the best train systems in the world.

Pennsylvania has 119k km^2 AND 13M population. New York has 140k km^2 and 20M population. New Jersey has 22K km^2 and 9M population. Maryland has 32k km^2 and 6M population. Delaware has 7k km^2 and 1M population. Connecticut has 14k km^2 and 3.5M population. Massachusetts has 27k km^2 and 6.5M population. Total area is 361 km^2 and 59M.

Keep in mind that probably 90%+ of Germany's rail system was in place by the 1930-1950s, when the population was 50-60M. I know that these are the densest population states, yet they are continuous and still have overall lousy rail service.

Re:Extremely unprofitable (3, Insightful)

MrZaius (321037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238639)

The population distribution in most of the US is simply not geared toward passenger rail except possibly at the local level

That's not really true. It rarely makes sense to extend light-rail systems beyond the densely packed urban centers, but you're ignoring the old heavy traffic. The layout of our towns, highways, etc are all heavily determined by the paths that the railroads took 150-75 years ago. This hasn't changed, as many of our Interstates were built along similar pathways.

Now, Amtrak may suck, but it's not like there's good competition available. Driving takes every bit as long and already costs far more, and our piss-poor airlines with worse food than a Flying J: Don't even get me started on the Fly America Act [fcw.com] and even greater sins [usatoday.com] our government commits in their favor.

If we had new rail-systems and new stations (with ZipCar and other car rental companies etc. colocated thereupon), they might very well be able to perform profitably. Let foreigners run 'em, too, so that the food doesn't taste worse than the truck stop food you'd get when driving (which is still better than the nothing-to-ramen spectrum on American air carriers), and this may very well be worthwhile. If speedy rail systems can be built that are fast enough and substantially more environmentally sound, we might even consider taxing competing air routes to subsidize them in an effort to meet soon-to-be-adopted CO2 emissions goals. Of course you may wish to hold off until after opening them up to all comers to knock the price down an equivalent amount.

Regardless, I'd assert that there is a market for a competently run Amtrak with maglevs et al or, better yet, multiple competing private firms. We just don't see it right now because the Amtrak service is (marginally) worse than the (insanely bad) domestic airlines. If we can restore service to all the cities over the million-person mark, I think they'd do just fine.

They just can't compete as long as:

1: They're as slow as a car
2: They serve worse food than truck stops (like the airlines)
3: They fail to advertise and compete aggressively due to lack of real market pressure
4: They fail to service many large cities

Still, that's half the point of the above. Look beyond light rail - The car manufacturers can make a lot of money regearing to deal with the above issues. If they're going to be bailed out with taxpayer money anyway, perhaps we should lead them in this cheaper and more fuel-efficient direction.

Foreign subsidies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238439)

The problems in the US are not just due to unwanted vehicle models. In fact, that isn't the real problem at all. Several US states have paid enormous subsidies to foreign can companies to open factories in the US. That caused overproduction. Finally, the credit crunch simply turned off the finance tap and nobody could buy cars because the banks would not provide car loans.

Have you noticed that even Toyota has made a loss of 1.7 billion dollars this quarter and that Japanese exports are down 30%?

Sounds like pining for the return of Locomotives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238449)

Really this is another sad example of luddite regressive thinking. Trains are a dead technology no reasonable person wants to deal with the vast waste of sound real estate for endless miles of noisy track. Not to mention the terrible environmental damage they do running into everything from cars to deer. Trains are not the solution if you are a lover of the environment.

The solution is to innovate past the reliance on the so called fossil fueled transportation we have today. That one sentence wraps up the whole problem, that is American resistance to real substantial innovation.

As to the American car industry, as politely as I can put it: they can go screw themselves. The best thing that could happen is that everyone involved in this terrible marketing scam is that they end up either in jail or on welfare for the rest of their lives. That means everybody from the CEO on down to the grossly over paid floor sweeper. Preferably a meagerly financed welfare system at that. I've now had the displeasure of owning autos from all three of the big names in Detroit and let me tell you they are all junk. I went for the vehicles of the big three out of some sort of misguided patriotic duty, but it has become obvious that no one in the American automobile industry has any concern at all about quality. Not the unions, the worker nor the management teams so screw them all!!!! Oh the politicians that are so stupid to support this insanity should get their with a hot poker fresh from hell.

I don't disagree with the idea that the collapse of the auto industry will be hard to deal with but it needs to burn to the ground so that something fresh and rational can be built in its place. So take that to mean I don't support the bail out one iota. Rather I'd like to see these people be held accountable in a very public way especially the unions which play a significant role in the crap that comes out of Detroit!


They could... (4, Insightful)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238451)

But honestly, why? The US has demonstrated that there is little to no interest in pubic rail. Well, there may be interest, but when it comes down to the "money where your mouth is" part of the argument, rail measures have traditionally fallen short (and yes, sometimes at the hands of automakers trying to push their evil agenda of....selling their products). California and Hawaii have made gains on rail projects, but even those are years away from laying track.

Looking at this from the 500 mile view may make this absurd enough to clarify your point: You're saying that the Big 3, a group of companies that have either A. Inepted themselves to bankruptcy at the hands of idiotic management and/or greedy workers or B. collapsed as lines of credit disappeared and their customers easy access to the means to purchase their respective products vanished should.........completely leave the industry they created and rebuild themselves as the primary suppliers of a product that is:

1. Already dominated by foreign (or domestic. Hi GE!) suppliers who are already producing fine products
2. Outside the scope of what these companies have built in the last 50-ish years
3. So limited in demand there is a market for at most a few thousand of these items over the next decade, for companies that have been producing millions of a particular product,
4. Not a priority for a nation whose infrastructure is dominated by products these companies currently produce.

Yeah...Not gonna happen.

The Big 3 aren't the ones having problems. The AUTO INDUSTRY is having problems. Every manufacturer of automobiles has seen the sales numbers drop (at best) by 20% a month for the last three months. Even the industry's anointed "do-no-wrong, their shit smells like fresh cinnamon buns" companies Toyota and Honda are taking beatings. Hell, Toyota is going to take their first loss EVER. EVER. The Big 3 were in a bad spot because they were left holding the bag when gas prices skyrocketed. They were making what the public wanted, and were getting fat. Shame on them. Toyota and Honda benefited from their innovations, and the Big 3 have now gone into full chase mode. For the previous years, Toyota was chasing the Big 3 in the SUV and Truck market, and were getting their asses handed to them.

I do have to chuckle at the backlash against the UAW. The UAW is evil because they "bent the big three over the table during the fat years" by demanding profit sharing, and reaping fat bonuses for their workers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is evil because they don't provide benefits, make employees work unpaid overtime, and their management gets fat bonuses....

(I'm not too interested in the debate about wage disparity and the cost of labor vs the cost a car, I just find it funny that when a company doesn't provide something, the company sucks, but when a union bargins for that same thing for employees, they're being greedy assholes.)

Re:They could... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238625)

The US has demonstrated that there is little to no interest in pubic rail.

My pubes are always in for some railing.

Eliminate Financial Deflection (1)

gznork26 (1195943) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238471)

Whatever is decided, some industries will gain and others will lose. Those which see that the projects would cost them, either financially or in the strength of their influence, will attempt to change the plans to suit their needs. They will do this by attempting to sway the people making the choices, either with threats or rewards. Congress is their playing field, and they know very well how to manipulate its members. Therefore it seems to me that in order for any plan to stay on course we will also have to intervene in the cycle of manipulation of our government. Any suggestions on how to accomplish that?

Graphene trains above Highways (1)

Burneypmcgillroy (1402963) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238477)

I think if we could emulate the human circulatory system and think of cars as red blood cells and veins/arteries as rail system. We have the majority of basic infra structure in USA. The basics being -utilize the current system of highways to build a rail system above and in the middle of the highway that lets cars/trucks get on and off easily to the more efficient train. You would park your car on the train and have a lunch while you zoomed across America. You have freedom of choice by getting off the train with your own vehicle and doing what you will. You would still have the highway to accommodate the old style cars and trucks. Then there could be a reasonable functional-ability of a little battery car that will go 200 miles per charge. Big semi-trucks would only haul trailers from train depot to destination. The technology and engineering of the train would of course depend on the high speed chair lift mechanism and a couple straps of graphene.

Rails - wrong fix for sprawl (1)

CityZen (464761) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238479)

I'm guessing that knapper_tech must live in a big city. The reason (in my uninformed opinion) that rails won't work for most of America is that there is too much space, things are too spread out, there are not enough "areas of concentration" to link together in any practical way, and that, in general, America is designed around the idea that everyone has a car. In addition, most places don't really seem to have much of a planning department; rather, development planning seems mostly left to (self-interested) developers, who generally care little for solving area-wide problems.

I think the solution to this problem (of reworking transportation away from inefficient personal cars) will have to be more forward-looking rather than coming from previous centuries. Perhaps cars may evolve into self-driven vehicles that can link themselves together into small "trains" (without rails, on mostly-normal roads).

Sure, it is difficult to think of a solution that isn't super-complex and therefore having lots of potential robustness issues. Engineering safeguards for all the potential kinks people can throw into a system is really difficult. But perhaps these problems may be more easily solved than trying to rework the whole country around a different transportation paradigm.

Than again, maybe I'm full of it. Perhaps "if you build it, they will come". Maybe rails will work in some areas if the existing transportation options are sucky enough (which may happen the next time gas prices spike).

Just some random thoughts from a flu-infected human.

Windmills (1)

hkmarks (1080097) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238505)

I always thought they should turn their attention to manufacturing windmills. They have the workers with the skills. They have the factories, if not quite the right machinery. They have at least some of the right suppliers. I suppose there are lots of reasons why they don't, but it's an idea.

The problem with trying to make money off of cars in a recession is that cars aren't scarce. If you really need a car you can pick a used one up for $2000 easily. If everyone usually buys a new car every 5 years and suddenly decides to put it off a year, you've lost 20% of your income. It's an obvious problem that they should have been prepared for.

Anyway. Windmills!

Re:Windmills (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238631)

I always thought they should turn their attention to manufacturing windmills.

Yeah, and Dell should switch to windmills too! After all, they have factories, and workers too, if not quite the right tools.

Changing the output of a factory that dramatically is harder than just building a new factory.

The product is not the problem (2, Insightful)

carlzum (832868) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238519)

Sure, they can retool to make anything, but the Big Three's problem is not the product they manufacture. If they produced things more efficiently than other manufacturers, they could leverage their processes, work force, and facilities to compete. But they don't have a competitive advantage in those areas, in fact, those are their weaknesses. US automakers should learn to make cars better in a modern global market instead of applying their poor model in other sectors.

commuter rail, commuter rail, commuter rail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238525)


All we hear about commuter rail, commuter rail, I agree it's been tried and it hasn't worked. What we need is industrial rail or rail for places where you can't or it's not good to drive. For instance when my family went to the mall of america, the hotel had a bus, my dad said it was worth it to not have to drive.



Detroit Rock City! (4, Insightful)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238563)

In American industry, the more unreasonable the request, the better the engineers and workers assigned to the problem like it. American White and Blue collar labor loves and lives for the "moon shot" - we don't know how we'll do it, the current state-of-the-art says we can't do it, and we've got an irrationally short timeframe to do it in. Out of our way, we'll freakin' do it.

This is reflected in the Aerospace industry, in Silicon Valley, and even in Detroit. Ford asked their engineers and UAW workers to build a hybrid. They built one [wikipedia.org], then two [jalopnik.com] hybrids that beat the everloving hell out of the Japanese models.

Here's the deal, tho... if Ford didn't have an "outsider" CEO, a guy who came from Boeing, it would never have been done.

There is a class of employee in Detroit who refuses to see the writing on the wall. Who refuses to alter the way they've been doing things for decades, convinced of their inherent superiority.

Not the UAW line workers. Not the pencil-pusher engineers. The management. The MBA miracles who have, in concert, done their damndest to run the US auto industry into the ground.

The engineers love a challenge, and American engineering stands for itself - from the original Model T to the Apollo Program to the Apple II. The workers stand for themselves, Union or not - Ford (Union) and Honda (Not) get about the same productivity from their American factories, and at the same cost, and it's a hell of a lot better than even the Japanese factories. (The problem facing the Big Three is actually =overproduction= - their factories churn out too much product that no-one is buying, because the product is crap, as mandated by MBA Miracles.) The Unions take pride in their work... you don't hear much about "those shoddy Boeing Jets", despite being engineered and made by Union members.

The management, the "money-men" - they all suck. Universally. This is the same class of management pros who ran Wallstreet into the ground. Fire them all, and put an engineer or a union boss in charge - I can guarantee a better product at a lower cost.

Actually, cars are more efficient (2, Interesting)

bkissi01 (699085) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238573)

There is no light rail system in the world that can compete with a hybrid car in terms of environmental friendliness. Take a look at Patrick Bedard's article "Save Energy, Take the Car" from the December Car and Driver. '"Most light-rail systems use as much or more energy per passenger mile as the average passenger car, several are worse than the average light truck, and none is as efficient as a Prius,â writes Randal Oâ(TM)Toole in a new study from the Cato Institute titled âoeDoes Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?"' http://www.caranddriver.com/features/columns/c_d_staff/patrick_bedard/save_energy_take_the_car_column [caranddriver.com]

Re:Actually, cars are more efficient (1)

acb (2797) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238649)

Except that the congestion caused by individual drivers on roads (even with each car fully loaded) is far greater than that caused by mass transit vehicles such as buses, trams or trains. And as congestion increases, the cars spend a lot more time waiting in gridlock, and a lot more fuel is burnt than in the theoretical optimum.

Also, I doubt that the Cato Institute would be particularly impartial here.

Dumbest thing I've read in a long long long time (1)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238587)

The auto industry builds cars. Sure, they could build something else. They could build toasters or computers or trains. Why exactly should these special futuristic trains be the thing they bet the farm on? For one thing they're a totally different thing to build. Really, an aircraft manufacturer would do better with producing maglev trains as they're a similar low-volume high-price item.

Now, lets consider something: Is there really any point to investing huge amounts in something novel like maglev? The damn thing uses tremendous amounts of energy (no it's not effecient, not unless you cool it with liquid helium) and maglev trains are only marginally faster than the best conventional rail systems. Oh yes, China built one. You know why? It's a damn showpiece. It's like the World's Fair or the 1936 olympics - build something astronomically impractical but very cool just to show that you can.

The population distribution and geography of the United States makes train travel very bad in many areas. It's the nature of the beast. In the Northeast it actually works pretty decently, but the idea that the US could have commuter networks like the tiny and densely-populated nation of Japan is ridiculous.

Now lets bring on the common misconceptions "Oh they are dinosaurs that build big SUV's and those use too much gas." First of all, they build what people want to buy. The SUV is a product of consumer demand. You know why? Because big vehicles are comfortable. Also, believe it or not, some people are willing to pay for expensive gas. And furthermore, there are ways of building cars that don't guzzel gas but are also not golfcarts. The reason this has not been happening so much is generally the technical hurdles.

You know why the car companies have financial problems? It's got NOTHING to do with the product. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Problem number one is union contracts. Most of these are stuck on the companies for a long damn time and some date back to the days when all companies offered pensions. Pensions are financially crippling becauise you're paying workers not to work. At one time people retired and then a few years later they were dead. These days people live longer and that's why companies offer 401(K) plans and never pensions. The auto companies can't because they have binding contracts. The second reason they're in trouble is the credit crisis. They ended up with a lot of loans for car financing that they handled and then these were underwritten by companies that can't back them. If that ain't bad enough they can't offer the same kind of financing they used to.

Re:Dumbest thing I've read in a long long long tim (0, Redundant)

acb (2797) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238629)

Actually, GM have a division which builds diesel locomotives.

574km/h? Not quite (4, Interesting)

acb (2797) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238591)

France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h.

Not quite; 574km/h was the maximum speed obtained on a special test run, using a train consisting solely of power cars (i.e., no passenger cars), with modified electrical systems and a special raised voltage, just to demonstrate the theoretical possibilities. The maximum speed day to day is 320km/h.

Not that that invalidates the rest of the article; passenger rail in the US is lagging behind the state of the art and, in many cases, behind the state of the practice (witness the state of Amtrak, which makes Britain's post-privatisation railways look like a model of efficiency).

lite rail and walking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26238599)

Light rail works very well, is cheap and easy to implement. Just needs all the outliers in the outer suburbs to move in a bit and you have a viable system. And walking (OMG a curse word) is good too..

Rail, no thanks (4, Interesting)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238609)

I just made a weekend trip from western ma to buffalo. About 350 miles. Round trip was over $130 dollars round trip, travel time was 9 hours. Plus all the before and after time dealing with a station, taxi/parking, etc

Even in my Jeep Liberty getting ~22 mi/gal it ended up being less than $100 including tolls. And this was when gas was over $1 more than it is now. Travel time was a smidge over 5 hours. Plus, when I decided to sleep in an extra hour before my return leg it wasn't a big deal. And when I got there I didn't have to worry about how I was going to get around for the weekend.

And this was just for me. If I had another 2 or 3 people in the car the train would never be cheaper even at $10 gas and chances are someone would have a better travel car than I have.

Now don't get me wrong. I tried, and really wanted the train to work. But it simply didnt for me. And where the price to drive stays pretty much the same when adding passengers, trains just start to add up more.

And this isn't just a US thing. On my company trips to northern France we would have people from other plants in France meet us. The furthest being Dijon, a pretty good 6-8 hour drive. Across the board they almost always avoided taking the train and preferred to drive. Especially if it was 2 or more people. It was simply cheaper, faster, and simpler. Outside of Metro areas I simply think trains are overrated.

Sorry, Rail still not happening (4, Insightful)

glyn.phillips (826462) | more than 5 years ago | (#26238641)

Rail has been a popular environmentalist cure for traffic, pollution and fossil fuel use since at least the Arab oil embargo of 1972.

The issues which have prevented its universal adoption across the United States are still here.

  1. Legal costs
  2. Right-of-way acquisition costs
  3. Construction costs
  4. Traffic Disruption due to construction (an intangible but real cost)
  5. Operating costs
  6. Maintenance costs
  7. Americans still want the freedom that cars give them.

Don't hold your breath on rail.

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