Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why I Like New Jersey

In the wake of the deadly accident last week in Westchester i read a piece in the New Yorker somewhat bemoaning the bucolic life in Westchester.
The problem in both New York and especially Connecticut is a road system not upgraded since the Revolution. Above are two examples of Connecticut. First the Merritt and its winding cow paths where the drivers easily exceed 80mph on wet dark nights. The second is I 95 where the construction closes the highway stranding thousands of trucks and resulting in one collision after another if not a massive economic cost.

Then add the cow paths. I know the section where the accident occurred and visual disorientation can be instantaneous. The Taconic is a well known road with multiple mortalities.

Yet as the author comments on rail transport:

Well, nothing new there: the car as symbol of America’s rise and fall. But the Harlem-line disaster was, most disturbingly, a car-meets-train disaster: the engineer trying to brake as the S.U.V. loomed squarely in his sights. To many of our fellow-citizens, the idea of commuting by rail seems archaic, or even un-American. (Never mind the marvels of high-speed rail in Europe and Asia.) To get somewhere, the thinking goes, you should be in the driver’s seat, with your own hands on the wheel. But, in fact, the American romance of rapid transit—of speed and freedom, of the beckoning open thoroughfare—began with trains. And, back in the day, we approached this novelty in our novel American fashion. “American railroads were constructed in the quickest way, and with little regard to safety, comfort, or durability,” Daniel Boorstin writes in “The National Experience,” the second volume of his trilogy “The Americans.” Charles Dickens, on his famous stateside visit, in 1842, “found his first ride in an American train of the Boston & Lowell line a terrifying experience. Generally foreigners touring the United States by rail were appalled by the frequency of accidents and still more amazed that Americans should accept them as routine.”

Rail transport in the US is stuck somewhere in the late 1930! While living in Europe it was clear than no respectable European country would tolerate such conditions. Imagine a third rail exposed in a highly populated area! Why not an open natural gas line. Why bury them, just hang them on telephone poles! Back roads in New York are adventures, but adventures are exposed to massive risks.

Now in New Jersey, a state of equal historical heritage, one sees roads much more carefully controlled. Wider roads, more well lit roads. In New Hampshire the same is true. There is break down space, even in the White Mountains with its typical ground cover of 4' of snow or more, one can move. Not so in New York and almost never in Connecticut. If there were a way to avoid Connecticut roads I would do so, no matter, except the only way to do so is to use the Taconic, drinking arsenic is safer!

This tragic event is just a recent sign of what must be done. In West Virginia one comes across RR crossings where we see 2 mile long trains loaded with coal, one is certain to stop, wait, then proceed cautiously. But on a random detour, most likely set up because of the authorities closing a road, leads to that form of dissonance that confuses, delays, and leads to tragedy.

Is this a new phenomenon? Hardly.

Certain technologies seem never to change, especially those owned or controlled or monopolized by the Government.  Cable converters have a life time of fifteen years, rail crossing have not been updated technology in over a hundred, power distribution systems are just a few years beyond Edison's first implementation.

Somehow, and this is the duty of the Government, new winds must blow to make certain we use what we have learned so this never happens again.

Ironically both Connecticut and New York have some of the highest gasoline taxes. One wonders what they do with those funds. From my fifty-five years of experience, it seems very little!