Planes vs Trains, a Matter of Security & Sustainability

Millimeter Wave Scanner Image

by Catherine Haug (photo, right, from Wikipedia)

Full-body scanners, used by TSA airport security before you can board a plane, have been much in the news lately (2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Many people object to this intrusion into their personal privacy; others object to frequent radiation exposure, including from health screenings and from security scans. And almost everyone complains about the extra time it takes just to check in.

The TSA is perfecting a newer version of the body scanners that allow the computer to see the true body scan, while the TSA personnel see only a stick-figure version. This is an attempt at averting the personal privacy issue, but many people argue that the photos are still taken, and the computer can be overridden to allow a person to view the photos.(6)

While the TSA is also working to minimize the amount of radiation used in the scans, for frequent fliers who also have annual mammograms, CT scans, bone scans and so on, it may still be more radiation exposure than is safe. Of course, you can opt for a private, full-body pat down, but this comes with a different set of safety and privacy issues.

Is there an alternative?

Amtrak Station, Whitefish MT

(Photo, left, by R. O’Hiser)

YES! It is not likely we will convince our government to abandon the full-body scanners. But we can avoid them altogether by choosing to take the train.

High-speed trains are very popular in Europe, but very few are available in the US. We should all clamber loudly to upgrade and increase infrastructure to allow more high-speed trains in the US.  Not only is this a more fuel-efficient and safer mode of travel, but also it could provide much needed construction jobs in every state.

Of course, if a majority abandoned planes in favor of train travel, the security problems would follow them. But it would give us more time, and more chances to come up with other solutions than full-body scanners.

Trains: The Safer, Sustainable Choice.

See also my earlier post: Rail Transit in the Flathead

References & Sources

  1. Wikipedia MWA scanner image:
  2. NPR: TSA Chief Says No Change in Screening Policy (Nov 21, 2010):
  3. NPR: TSA Has Met the Enemy, and They are Us (Nov 21, 2010):
  4. NPR: Air Travelers Forced to Choose between Scanners, Pat-Downs (Nov 16, 2010):
  5. NPR: Gov’t Says Full-Body Scanners at Airports are Safe (Nov 18, 2010):
  6. NPR: TSA Chief Defends Airport Screening Procedures (Nov 17, 2010):
  7. Photo of Whitefish Train Station by R. O’Hiser, 9/24/2004

2 Responses to “Planes vs Trains, a Matter of Security & Sustainability”

  1. Faye Lomax says:

    Absolutely agree with you re train travel!
    I just wish there were a few more scheduled runs of even the not-so-high-speed trains we already have. Too often they are sidetracked to let the freight trains go through with commercial cargo, making arrival times sometimes iffy.

    Not enough rail lines left…as a result of decades ago removal (by the RRs) of less used rails due to taxation whether used or not. Too bad we had to lean so hard on the RRs so long ago (I understand they deserved it at the time), to the point we have insufficient rail lines now.

  2. Catherine says:

    Something not well known, is that when President Eisenhower launched the massive construction effort to build our interstate highway system, his intent was to build new passenger rail lines in the divider between the opposing directions of traffic. That’s why so many Interstates have that wide grassy meridian. It’s a shame that we never followed through with that plan.

    The trucking industry really took off when the Interstates were built, taking much needed freight revenue from the RR companies, so that they could no longer afford to maintain many existing, let alone add new rail lines.

    But President Obama supports expansion of passenger rail, so perhaps we’ll see Eisenhower’s vision completed, at last.