The Terrorists Among Us

by Noel T. Braymer, RailPAC President — Since the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain that killed 190 people this March, there has been a heightened state of awareness for transportation security. It is true there are terrorists among us in America. Many kill themselves in their terrorist deeds, some are unknowing accomplices spreading death and destruction. These terrorists kill on average 117 people a day, over 40,000 annually. They cost the economy up to $230 Billion in damage every year. I’m talking about the terror on our nation’s roads. We have far more to fear driving to work every day than riding a train.

In 2002 the total number of people killed on the roads rose for the first time to 42,815 after steady declines since 1990. Almost 3 million people in America were injured in traffic accidents in 2002. Much of this was due to the increase in rollover accidents which now account for 32% of traffic fatalities. Most of these roll over accidents involve pick up trucks and SUV’S. These vehicles now make up to half the vehicles sold in this county. Many people buy them in the mistaken belief their size and weight makes them safer and more secure. This false feeling of security leads these owners to drive when conditions are unsafe, such as winter on ice covered roads where TV News cameras show these vehicles sliding around out of control. The facts are as plain as High School Physics; their high center of gravity makes these vehicles unstable and more likely to roll over. The further irony is SUV’S and light trucks do not have meet the same standards for air pollution and fuel economy as cars. This was done originally to help the “poor farmer.” The result is a form of government subsidy to sell unsafe vehicles, which wastes mostly imported fuel and increases air pollution. I won’t even begin to list the economic, health costs or deaths just from air pollution or global warming.

Think fuel prices are high now? Just wait, they’ll go higher. They will go down a little, then back up higher again. It is true that the oil companies are closing oil refineries, and we have less capacity to make gasoline in California than 20 years ago. This may be an evil conspiracy by the oil companies to increase profits, but I think it is realization by the oil industry that it is pointless to expand capacity, in the face of declining supply. The major oil fields in the Middle East are depleting. They are still producing and will for years to come. But, they now can’t continue to produce at former levels. Think Alaska was the solution for our oil? We have long imported over half of our oil and the productions at the oil fields in Alaska have been declining for years. We are starting to see a long range trend of less oil being found and pumped. This in the face of increasing demand for energy, not only in America, but also around the world, particularly in developing counties like China and India.

This county’s foreign policy for years and for many administrations is centered on control of the world’s oil. We lack a policy for the future when we must transition to alternatives to make up for oil that can no longer be produced. So much of what is left of the world’s oil is in the poorest and least stable regions of the world. Plus, we are pitting ourselves against the rest of the world competing for the remaining supply of oil. Think the USA is unpopular now in some places!? Ever see the movie “Mad Max”? In the end our American dependence on fossil fuels leaves us very venerable to the actions of terrorist groups and unfriendly nations.

It is times like this I say thank God for groups like us, The Railroad Passenger Association of California. I can think back to the impact ten years ago of the Northridge Earthquake. Extending the almost new Metrolink Rail service to Lancaster gave one of the few forms of access to people in the High Desert cut off by the earthquake’s closing of Highway 14 at Sylmar to Los Angeles. Think Metrolink would have been around without groups like us promoting economical expanded rail service? I doubt it. Rail service can and does make a difference. It did in World War II when gas rationing forced reductions in driving. We have a lot of catching up to do. We have nothing close to the level of rail service of 60 years ago, but we have more people and places than we did in 1940. I’m not saying that Rail Service is the one and only solution, but it is a central part of the solution.

It is not a question of IF we should transition to a non-fossil fuel dependent economy. It is only a question of when and how painful that transition will be. As is so often the case, not only is the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but the biggest enemy we have is ourselves.