• Rail: A Thing of the Past

      What’s faster, greener and more convenient than high-speed rail? Self-driving cars, as I report in this week’s show.

      I thought self-driving cars were a science fiction fantasy, but on my show Saturday, transportation expert Randal O’Toole tells me that self-driving cars are already a reality. Google engineers recently drove seven test cars, in traffic, 1,000 miles without any human intervention. There was only one accident, and that wasn’t the self-driving car’s fault.  It happened when the Google car stopped for a red light and was rear-ended.

      Computers have faster reaction times than people, so self-driving cars could safely drive close together at high speeds. O’Toole says that 6000 robot cars could drive on highways that currently supports 2000 regular cars.  That would help far more commuters than “high speed” rail ever will.

      But once again, government regulation blocks progress. Laws in every state right now require a person to be in control of the wheel. Our legal system hurts too: Even if driverless cars have fewer accidents, lawyers will blame the few that do occur on the car maker.

      So are politicians pushing reform of our outdated driving laws to help robot cars reduce congestion? Of course not. Obama – who, to his credit, now says we need to cut some parts of government – says high-speed rail is one thing that needs more funding.

      Ray LaHood, Obama’s clueless Transportation secretary, says building rail will help the environment.

      An Amtrak train between Philadelphia and New York can carry up to 500 passengers, and if those folks drove instead, they would use … roughly double the energy used by that train.

      So he says.  But trains are not the environmental saviors people think they are.   The Congressional Research Service concluded: The numbers… suggest that Amtrak does not conserve energy compared to … auto travel for trips longer than 75 miles.

      It’s telling that Lahood has to single out “an Amtrak train from Philadelphia to New York” – just about the only part of the Amtrak system that gets decent ridership. Other lines, which hardly anyone ride, cost taxpayers $462 per ticket. Running empty trains isn’t good for the environment.

      O’Toole says that self-driving cars would be far more energy efficient, as three times as many cars could be packed in the same stretch of road – which means less congestion and fewer idling cars wasting fuel.

      You can watch the segment – with video of self-driving cars – here. And tune in to the show Saturday at 9pm and midnight ET (or Sunday at 9pm ET) for more about “A Libertarian Future.”