What the Eyjafjallajokull – And What Could Happen in the US?
The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull has certainly been one of the more bizarre geological incidents to happen in our lifetime. I have vague memories of Mount Saint Helens, and of course the 1980 Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked Northern California in 1989 is seared in the memories of anyone who could remember that October day. But this Icelandic surprise has been the largest disruption to hit international travel since World War II. Yes, 9/11 was traumatic, but by the end of that awful week, air flights had resumed across the United States. So the editor of Triple Pundit bought up a great point: what if something like that happened here? Some in Europe have enjoyed this break in air travel, especially if you happen to live near Heathrow Airport. But the volcanic blanket covering Europe, besides stranding world leaders and causing Norway to be ruled from an iPad, has shocked a continent that has become more reliant on cheap air transportation. Europe, however, has long had a huge network of trains, and also enjoys efficient bus transportation. Despite the oft-cancelled plans, the continent, and yes, even the UK, can somehow adjust and carry on. The United States, however, is not as densely populated as Europe, which is why the challenges of installing more broadband and of course, passenger rail, have proven more difficult. I am not convinced we could have the network of trains that Europe enjoys, even if there were the political and financial will, because the USA is just too big. But that does not mean we cannot have great regional train systems. While many “greens” tout video-conferencing and web-casts to avoid CO2 emissions from aircraft, anyone in business can vouch that in the end, nothing is as valuable as face time. Nevertheless, flying between LA and San Francisco, Dallas and Houston, and Miami and Tampa is often not worth the hassle. The traffic going to the airport, the security, and flight delays makes these short trips exasperating. And high speed rail could mitigate those airplane emissions. Imagine being able to go through minimum security at a train station, being in a train for 2 or 3 hours, and in the meantime, catching up on work thanks to that wireless card on your laptop. It’s a reality that can and should happen: partly because we just don’t have the room or will to expand our current airports, and in case a freak of nature like Eyjafjallajokull strikes, we cannot allow our transportation infrastructure to screech to a halt. Don’t count on seeing any of this to occur anytime soon. But it should.