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Needless and premature death, whether by accident, war, illness, or murder, strikes our hearts as we wonder - what if that were me, my brother, my son or daughter? What has the world irretrievably lost? Every such loss is a tragedy in itself. Multiplied by dozens, the loss becomes numbing and almost unbearable.

People have compared the losses at Virginia Tech with the daily tragedy that is Iraq - and rightly so. Today we hear of another bombing with over a hundred lost - mothers, fathers, children irretrievably torn from their mortal existence, never again to feel the rain or hear the birds or laugh and have joy on this Earth.

But needless, tragic death is not restricted to war zones or gun violence. Every day in America brings senseless tragedy to families across the country. Tragedy that is, if not completely preventable, greatly reducible if only...

... if only we were willing to give up our cars.

The National Safety Council tracks and gathers statistics on accidental death and injury in the United States. Their recent output includes the Odds of Dying chart. Of the non-illness, non-suicide causes of death, firearm assault is a distant third to death by motor vehicle.

There are 120 tragic deaths every day in motor vehicle accidents, on average, and 6500 people injured. Roughly 15 people are killed for every billion vehicle-miles traveled, or about 9 deaths per billion passenger-miles. That's 4 times the death toll at Virginia Tech, every day. That's a "Titanic" every two weeks, a 9-11 every month, over 43,000 per year. 2.4 million people received a disabling injury from motor vehicle accidents in 2005.

In some way or other, every traffic death is preventable. Simple safety tips can help each of us individually - but they still don't control what those other guys may be doing - whether New Jersey governors or those sleepy or drunk drivers. But there is a solution...


Statistics consistently show less than 1 passenger fatality per billion passenger miles on well-run rail systems. Unfortunately, many people use rail systems to commit suicide, or cross in front of trains in violation of warnings - a number that bumps up the usually reported rail fatality rates a factor of 10 or more. Grade separated railways with their own right-of-way typically have tiny passenger fatality rates; the Japanese Shinkansen has operated for 40 years with 6 billion passengers, hundreds of billions of passenger-miles and not even one fatal accident.

Do we need any other reason for a massive switch of US transportation systems to rail? Every passenger mile that can switch from roads to rails allows us to eliminate 100% of its oil consumption, 90% of the CO2, and at least 90% of the traffic fatalities. What else are we waiting for?

Originally posted to apsmith on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  ha! a refreshing agenda! Cheers :) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, Rex Manning
  •  In addition to the direct deaths (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    retrograde, G2geek, Rex Manning

    via accident/such, how much does rail cause in deaths/illnesses due to its pollution.

    Now, there are diesel trains, which therefore do pollute, but electric ...

    Thus, avoid deaths by getting people off the roads ... and reduce deaths/illnesses by cutting pollution.

    Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

    by A Siegel on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:43:46 PM PDT

    •  We have a good idea of the net impact ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... since for diesel-electric, we can estimate the fuel consumption compared to cars. Strickland's estimates ... and below, I am quoting, of course, Strickland's "typical" efficiency, since the "maximum" efficiency is, as Strickland notes, primarily useful to allow us to compute our own typical efficiency if we want to work with a different ridership.

      Local travel (Gallons or equivalent per hundred passenger miles):
      1.39gphpm Toyota Prius (72 passenger-mpg)
      4.76gphpm Ford Explorer (21 passenger-mpg)

      Long distance travel:
      0.50 gphpm Diesel-Electric Commuter rail (200 passenger-mpg)
      1.04 gphpm Toyota Prius (96 passenger-mpg)
      1.72 gphpm Ford Explorer (44 passenger-mpg)

      So if its replacing long distance travel on road, it has 2 times to 3.4 times the efficiency, and if its replacing local travel on road, it has 2.7 times to 9.5 times the efficiency.

      So the question becomes one of pollution load per gallon of fuel. If its less 2 times, then its a clear net gain. With high efficiency diesel engines running on B20 to reduce particulate emissions further, that would seem to be an easy target to hit.

      And its a lot easier to target funds to reduce the pollution load per gallon of fuel for diesel-electrics than for cars, because there are more than an order of magnitude fewer diesel-electric locomotives to target.

  •  Well (0+ / 0-)

    I think it's well understood that cars are dangerous machines, capable of killing anyone, but car safety has improved dramatically since it was made affordable to the masses in the 1920s. That's a natural benefit of technological innovation, human lives are better protected with new research and so on. Banning cars is impractical in 2007 because our society and economy have evolved so much that we need cars, but I do think there are countless positives to more rail and more sidewalks. My suburban hometown could really use a lesson in catering to pedestrians, especially since there are major roads (not highways, but roads) that lack sidewalks and crosswalks. It's extremely disturbing, especially there were times when, lacking a car or a ride, I had to zig-zag around the dangerous, high-paced roads. I had no other choice. I personally love the Metro subway in DC, especially since driving in DC is utterly ridiculous. I wish Amtrak would get help too, because passenger rail truly is an amazing way to travel and see the world without having the hassle of watching the road all the time. The romantic and practical benefits to a train ride are all there, it's just too expensive. Thanks for bringing this up.

    "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:44:34 PM PDT

    •  Is this comment kind of sideways to the diary? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JSCram3254, marykk

      I don't find anything in the diary or the entire set of Energize America related rail diaries that calls for banning cars.

      In terms of deaths per billion passenger miles, yes, that was higher three decades back into the previous century. But the figure in the diary that the national passenger motor-road transport system claims 4 Virginia Tech's each day ... that is with today's safety advances incorporated.

      •  No I understand (0+ / 0-)

        I did write "if only we were willing to give up our cars" - but even I find it hard to imagine cars going away completely. And I'm not favoring legislation to eliminate cars, just substantially more federal funding for development of rail systems could make a huge difference.

  •  rail, public transpo in general, would (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    change the way we live for the better. i could not agree more. travelling with our neighbors day in and day out cannot help but press familiarity and contemplation upon us.

    having read your last diary though and having been reminded today that US Code consists of 60,000 pages, i believe that waste must be a hardened feature of american culture.

    Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

    by MarketTrustee on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:47:37 PM PDT

  •  Just one more benefit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of rail.  Thanks for posting.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 11:15:51 AM PDT

  •  As someone stuck commuting from... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    apsmith, BruceMcF

    Reading to Philadelphia, I would adore an expansion of commuter and passenger rail.  There has been discussion here of expanding commuter rail service to Reading, but our recently unemployed and ineffectual Senator, Rick Santorum, couldn't get the federal funding for it.  So we're all still stuck driving from Reading to Philadelphia, half-asleep, hopped up on caffeine to keep our eyes open, and just wanting to sit back and relax before we go into our respective office buildings for a day of work.

    I also love the Acela.  I had a chance to ride on it once.  Clean, luxurious in a modern, business-class kind of way, fast and efficient.  It would be faster, but the government won't give Amtrak the money to build exclusive rails so it has to slow down all the time.  More people would use it if it were allowed to go as fast as it can.  And it could start expanding to longer trips.  I know I'd love to have the chance to take high speed rail from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh or Chicago.

    Rail transportation needs to expand.  We need to have the option of travelling by train in order to facilitate growth everywhere.  Our highways are stretched to the breaking point and more cars will only exacerbate the problem of climate change.  And air travel isn't possible to most of the small and mid-sized cities in America for a reasonable cost.  Only rail travel will open up these parts of America to visitors and economic growth again.  

  •  what are we waiting for? leadership! n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." -FDR

    by jbro on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 11:55:35 AM PDT

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