Bullet Train: Boon or Boondoggle?
By KRISTEN STERNBERG
NIE EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT
What if you could travel from Daytona Beach to Jacksonville – a two to three hour car ride – in less than an hour? Florida voters approved a high-speed rail transportation system to connect major cities, like the ones mentioned above, around the state. According to a newspaper article, it's going to cost up to 20 billion dollars to build. Where will all this money come from-and will the benefits be worth the costs?
Those in favor of a high-speed rail system (sometimes called HSRS) in Florida certainly think so. From their point of view, such trains would reduce overcrowding on our highways, because more people would take trains if they were quick and convenient. Fewer cars on the roads would mean less pollution and fuel consumption as well as fewer traffic delays and accidents. These are just a few of the far-reaching ways people can benefit from a HSRS.
Others say the rail system we currently have is underutilized-that is, not enough people use it. Rail companies lose money when they're underutilized, and opponents are skeptical about whether a HSRS can support itself financially. In that situation, it's likely the service would be underwritten by national and local governments, which means some of our taxes would be devoted to supporting it.
High-speed trains travel up to about 300 miles an hour. As you can imagine, these trains have some special requirements. New tracks have to be laid, and bridges must be built where trains now cross roads. Automated control systems and signals have to be put into place, and train tracks need to be fenced on either side to prevent accidents. Designing and building the trains themselves will be a challenging opportunity for the professionals involved.
A lot of people feel strongly about whether Central Florida needs a high-speed rail system, so chances are you have an opinion on it. Before you make up your mind completely, though, check out the newspaper activities and Web sites provided below. You're bound to learn a lot more!
Try these interesting activities using The News-Journal
- Use your newspaper to identify various types of transportation and the energy sources they use. For example, most cars use gasoline for fuel, and coal was once widely used by steamships. What others can you think of? Make a chart expressing your findings. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.C.2.2.1, SC.D.2.2.1, SS.D.1.2.1)
- Some of the anticipated benefits of using high-speed rail systems may be reductions in fuel consumption, traffic delays, accidents and air pollution. Use a recent newspaper to find any articles, editorials and ads related to those four issues. Make a display by pasting your findings on a piece of poster-size paper. Use your poster to tell others about your findings. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.B.1.2.2, SC.B.1.2.5, SC.B.2.2.2, SC.D.2.2.1)
- A high-speed rail system in Florida might make long distances seem closer. Think of a major sports event you might like to attend-in a city other than the one you live nearest. Use your newspaper and other resources to name the stadium, field or arena where the event is scheduled to take place. Use a map to find the distance to that venue and then compare how long it would take to get there by car and by high-speed rail. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.A.2.2.8, MA.A.3.2.2, MA.A.3.2.3, MA.B.1.2.1, MA.B.1.2.2, MA.B.4.2.1)
- Choose three Florida cities whose names appear in recent newspaper stories. Locate the cities on a map and draw lines to form a triangle connecting the three cities. Calculate the distances between each point on your triangle. Then, imagine you were traveling on a high-speed railway from city to city. How long would your journey take if the train averaged 150 miles per hour? How long would it take by car? How long by plane? (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, MA.A.3.2.2, MA.A.3.2.3, MA.B.1.2.1, MA.B.1.2.2, MA.B.4.2.1, SS.B.1.2.1)
- The News-Journal and other newspapers frequently publish articles and editorials about Florida's proposed bullet train. Keep yourself informed by checking your newspaper periodically for updates on this issue. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, SS.A.6.2.3)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more
Take a look at this map showing where in the U.S.A. high-speed rails are being considered. Then, zero in to see Florida's role in high-speed transportation.
See great photos and check out top speeds of high speed rail trains around the world-Japan's Shinkansen, the 'TGV' in France, Germany's 'ICE' and more. Want to learn about the fastest steam train in the world? You'll also find a high-speed rail newsletter along with information about future projects.
Why is NASA testing maglev (magnetic levitation) technology at its Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama? Be sure to visit their site for kids, where you can zoom in on photos, see demonstrations of how it works and learn how magnetic levitation might be applied to rocket launches. Don't forget to leave time for some cool experiments with magnets you can try yourself. For some other opportunities to experiment with electromagnetics, try NASA's section on How Stuff Works.
Are you thinking of pursuing a career in transportation? You can find many opportunities to work in, on and around trains if they interest you. Engineering, architecture and design, piloting, hospitality, maintenance and public relations are just a few of the many careers available. Follow this link to Education and Careers in Transportation, designed especially for kids and teens, to find puzzles, activities, statistics and more.
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles on this topic. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
Published September 10, 2001