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Greg Worden

Entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Business, Worden Associates

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What impact will driverless cars have on America's transportation infrastructure? Will passenger trains be obsolete?

Google, Volvo and many others are experimenting with driverless cars. If we can enter the car, tell the computer our destination, and then sleep, watch a movie, eat lunch, or even work while the car does the driving then this could dramatically impact the way we make decisions about flying vs driving vs taking a train.

California is considering developing a high-speed rail line connecting the major cities. The East Coast is perpetually discussing its own high-speed rail line. In each case the cost is potentially staggering. We already have a great road network plus a good air travel network. If we take it as a given that air travel is best for long-distance travel considering time and cost and cars are best for short distances, then the question becomes what if we need to travel middle distances such as 500-1,000 miles? Trains are good for this now, where they are connected, because one can get up, walk around, eat, sleep and travel while someone else does the work. What happens if driverless cars are available?

Should we give up on high-speed rail discussions in the US and simply wait until the future arrives? What will happen to short-haul commuter flights?

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  • Nov 30 2012: "Trains are good for this now, where they are connected, because one can get up, walk around, eat, sleep and travel while someone else does the work."

    They're also cheaper and more fuel efficient vs. a car or plane on middle distances, plus you don't need to own a car and a driver's license for them, which is why trains won't go anyway soon, at least not in most countries (which are more densily populated than the US).
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      Nov 30 2012: You're absolutely correct that trains are idea for Japan, much of Europe and parts of China. High-speed rail here in the US has been a very hard sell. We've been talking about it for 30 years. There are obvious places such as Richmond to Boston corridor or San Diego to San Francisco but it is so expensive and so hard to get permitting for new rights-of-way that it hasn't happened yet. Amtrak, at least on the East Coast, even with Acela is very slow. They're also less flexible than cars. It will be exciting to see how things shape up.

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