Sunday, August 24, 2008

Light rail

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso is an interesting guy. He's nearly the only pol around in Texas who'll speak the flat truth that the state needs an income tax. In an ed-page piece in the World's Worst Newspaper, he makes a case for light rail as a solution to transportation needs in his city. In part:
From 1881 to 1902, El Paso's street car service consisted of a few modest wooden cars, drivers and sturdy mules -- the most famous being Mandy the Mule.
At the turn of the last century, El Paso-Juárez was the leading international light rail region, and mules like Mandy were the engines that made it run.

He goes on to mention how a company owned by GM and an oil company bought up the city's streetcar system and shut it down. The car companies did the same all around the country in the 30s and 40s, trying to move people into cars as primary transport. Before that there were a lot of streetcar lines in towns around the country and interurban lines between towns. I remember playing along abandoned lines in the middle of our street in Abilene in the 40s. Read all of Shapleigh's article here. People took trains for outings and travel between towns. Two, three years ago I talked to a guy in Bloomington who said his family had ridden the train in from that village into Victoria on Saturday mornings to shop and go to the movies and then rode a train back in the afternoon. He was only around 70, so we're not talking 1926 but more like in the 40s. Rail is an idea that is more attractive daily when a little run into town costs $12 or $15 in gasoline.

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