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Mario Tama // Getty Images
Mario Tama // Getty Images

Why Are U.S. Trains So Bad?

Mario Tama // Getty Images
Mario Tama // Getty Images

Trains are amazing miracles of infrastructure technology. They can go really fast! They’re better for the environment! There is no fasten seatbelt sign dictating when you can and cannot go to the bathroom! 

Unfortunately, if you live in the U.S., taking a train is at best slow and expensive, and at worst, totally unavailable. Part of this is because the United States is a big, big place, but so is China—a country that is building a network of state-of-the-art high-speed railways. 

For short-haul trips, like between New York City and Washington D.C., hopping a train should be much faster than heading out to an airport, going through security, catching an hour-long flight, then taking a cab downtown. But with Amtrak, it takes about as long as driving does, unless you take the country’s only “high-speed” railway, the Acela Express, which still takes about three hours and costs more than a hundred dollars each way. (Driving takes about four and a half hours.)

Why does America, a country where early railroad tycoons became some of the richest men in history and wielded incredible influence over everything from city development to education (Stanford and Vanderbilt University were both founded on railroad money), have such a bad railroad system? 

Cars and planes became more trendy and efficient in the 20th century, so people didn't need to take trains. Passenger trains just weren’t profitable anymore, especially after the U.S. Post Office began shipping mail by truck and air, rather than on railroads. In 1970, President Nixon signed the law that created Amtrak, the national company tasked with getting people around the U.S. by rail. Sadly, Amtrak doesn’t operate enough trains to actually make itself useful—it runs around 300 journeys per day, compared to the 14,000 daily journeys run by France’s national rail service. Only 72 percent of Amtrak’s trains arrive on time, on average, in part because freight trains run on the same tracks, and often take priority.  

For a whole lot more on the sad state of American railroads, check out the video from Wendover Productions.

[h/t Boing Boing]

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A New Roller Coaster is Whizzing Through Colorado's Rocky Mountains
iStock
iStock

There are plenty of ways to explore the majestic Rocky Mountains, but few offer the adrenaline rush of the Rocky Mountain Coaster, a brand-new roller coaster that sends riders soaring along the range’s natural twists and turns.

As Urban Daddy reports, the Rocky Mountain Coaster recently opened at Copper Mountain, a mountain and ski resort that’s located near the tiny town of Frisco, about 75 miles west of Denver. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the vacation spot is ideal for hikers, skiers, and mountain bikers. Now, visitors looking to enjoy the surrounding scenery without breaking a sweat can cruise for roughly a mile down to the resort’s high alpine Center Village.

The ride’s raised track “runs along the natural curvature of the mountain, with zigs, zags, dips, and 360-degree turns for guaranteed thrills,” according to a press release. Each personal car is equipped with manual hand brakes to control the ride’s pace, but the coaster does feature a 430-foot drop, so be careful with your phones while Instagramming the view.

The Rocky Mountain Coaster is open-year round, though it will initially mostly only be open on weekends. Solo rides cost $25, and a two-ride pass can be purchased for $35. (Resort guests get an exclusive discount.)

[h/t Urban Daddy]

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environment
Eco-Friendly Cruise Ship Design Includes Vertical Farms, Solar Sails, and a "Plant Kingdom"
Oliver Design
Oliver Design

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your next vacation, you could do better than boarding a cruise ship. Luxury liners consume tons of fuel and produce even more sewage that is often dumped directly into the ocean. But cruises don’t have to be disastrous for the Earth by design: As inhabitat reports, the newly-designed Ecoship aims to be the most eco-friendly cruise ship on the seas.

The futuristic vessel was envisioned by the firm Oliver Design for the Japanese humanitarian organization Peace Boat. For decades, Peace Boat has been spreading its message of global social change through “peace voyages” that sail around the world. The Ecoship will embody this mission by being kinder to the environment than conventional cruise ships. Ten photovoltaic solar sails extend from the deck like giant fins, collecting clean energy to supplement the hybrid engine. Retractable wind generators harvest energy as well.

According to Oliver Design, the Ecoship will produce 30 percent less carbon dioxide than modern cruise ships. The vessel’s electrical system has also been updated with both the solar sails and kinetic floors onboard providing power. The biggest change comes in the sewage operations: Both the waste and water will be fed through a closed loop, which means that whatever’s produced is filtered and recycled again and again.

As these features are working behind the scenes, passengers will get to see some Earth-friendly amenities up close. A “plant kingdom” that covers five decks will consume surplus waste, water, and carbon dioxide produced by the ship, while vertical farms will be used to grow vegetables for meals.

When the Ecoship sets sail in 2020, it will continue to spread awareness of the changing climate that inspired its design. Oliver Design writes on its webpage, “The organization [Peace Boat] wants the Ecoship to be a turning point for the shipping industry and a flagship for raising awareness on climate change. As well as hosting Peace Boat’s voyages throughout the world, the ship will be used to stage exhibitions on green technology at the 100 ports where it is expected to dock each year.” You can check out the concept art for the project in the video below.

[h/t inhabitat]

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