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EDITORIAL: All aboard for trains

Despite some problems, trains remain incredibly important to creating better infrastructure in the U.S.

Trains offer accessible transportation to passengers while also creating more sustainable infrastructure. – Photo by Silver Ringvee / Unsplash

Train rides can be a great experience. Due to how our infrastructure is currently set up, trains offer a unique chance to experience commuting without a car or the traffic.

So, when President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — a vocal supporter of Amtrak — was elected and devoted time to supporting train infrastructure, many people became excited about the prospect that the U.S. could finally have a reliable, expansive network of trains that connect major cities.

New Jersey, for example, received $834.5 million dollars to upgrade transit. While this funding includes buses and other transit systems, a portion will be going to improve New Jersey’s rail. This level of commitment is important to show that the government is invested in making public transit more accessible for as many people as possible, especially for those who depend on it every day.

These investments are good and would address some of the problems of NJ Transit, especially when it comes to reducing delays, but these investments could also be broadened to make trains more accessible and dependable across the nation.

Currently, there are several problems facing public transit. First is the issue of affordability: Trains can be incredibly expensive, especially for commuters with tight budgets. A round-trip ticket from New Brunswick to New York City, for instance, costs just less than $30 — a significant amount of cash for college students and regular people.

We must be mindful of the prohibitive costs of trains and work to undo such burdens. If the goal is to make trains a more accessible alternative to driving, they must be made affordable for all.

New Jersey transit sometimes runs promotions that give riders the opportunity to get tickets for free — more such promotions should happen, and more people should be made aware of the possibility of obtaining discounted tickets. Even more, Rutgers should provide students with a program that gets them discounted train tickets with their student ID cards.

Especially for students at Rutgers — where we pride ourselves on our proximity to New York City — there should be more affordable ticket options. Students who are interns in the city, for instance, are usually paid the minimum wage while still being required to pay the price to commute. That significant price in commuting makes any money made from the internship negligible.

Another significant issue facing trains is safety. In New York City, for example, there has been an alarming increase in the amount of violence perpetrated against people using the subway. Asian Americans, especially, have experienced such violence the most. And, just this last week, a mass shooting took place in Brooklyn, with at least 29 people being injured.

For public transit to work, there must be a greater sense of safety and security. This does not inherently mean more security forces. Rather, there should be increased mental health specialists at various stations available to diffuse any tense situation. There should also be stronger precautions, such as barriers between the platforms and tracks, so as to best protect against any pushing.

Still, though, despite these obstacles, trains can — and should — be a great experience. European rail systems, for example, connect cities to smaller towns in an efficient way. American rails should follow that model.

European rail has an infrastructure that is suited to high-speed rail. We should begin to invest in transit plans that would make it easier to implement high-speed rail, especially as we look for ways to better connect the country.

We are beginning to see that happen. For instance, in New Jersey, a regional rail line is being built that connects Glassboro, New Jersey, to Camden, New Jersey, giving South Jersey towns vital transit access that would decrease the dependency on cars and improve the area’s access to central hubs such as Philadelphia or Trenton. 

For what some see as possible, this graphic lays out what can happen if America reimagines the rail system. Imagine taking a train from New York City to Chicago in a reasonably short amount of time — the possibilities really are endless.

One of the ways to break through these issues is to begin to dismantle the cultures around cars. To make transit more widespread, we need to break through those cultural barriers.

Not just that, though, increasing rail would also mean helping combat climate change. Trains emit fewer emissions than planes or cars. If we increase rail options, we might be able to make a dent in the carbon emissions and begin reversing some of the gravest impacts of climate change.

There are many possibilities in rail. Although there are problems that need to be urgently addressed, rail offers a great opportunity to make the U.S. greener and a more connected country. 

Policymakers should understand these issues and respond accordingly. We need safe, reliable transportation. Those issues must be the baseline. We need to build up our transit infrastructure so that it is expansive and efficient.

As students, we can lobby for these efforts, and we can vote on these issues. We should ensure that people who represent us in government are committed to making transit better throughout this state and the country.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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