Reading Steve Gregory’s weather diary this morning over on Daily Kos, an idea struck me. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, it’s simply beautiful, it’ll help alleviate our dependency on oil, it’ll put Americans back to work, it will go a long way toward solving our impending transportation crisis, and it will never be implemented.

Follow me below the fold to see what I came up with.
My brilliant idea comes from a number of factors. I’m composing at the keyboard, as it were, so I hope this is coherent and, most of all, correct.

First off, the United States of America is to coal what the Middle East is to oil, only more so. We have enough coal in the ground to keep us running for several hundred years at predicted consumption levels. This plan might raise those consumption levels somewhat, but if the coal lasts for three hundred years instead of four, we still have three hundred years to come up with better alternatives.

Second, we have a pool of displaced Americans who are going to need jobs. In some ways this project is a make-work project, but it’s a make-work project with a tremendous payoff.

Third, we have a physical infrastructure to support this plan. True, it’s been sadly neglected and is in need of repair, but that is easily fixed through hiring Americans to work on repairing it.

And fourth, this solution has been used before and worked admirably for a very long time.

The solution, as you may have guessed by now, is to declare an Apollo-style initiative to rebuild the nation’s rail infrastructure by 2010 and move as much of our nation’s transportation — both goods and people — over to rail as humanly possible.

The rails ran on coal for many, many years. Coal has a dual purpose in this scheme: it can be used to generate electricity, and it can be used to generate steam to power locomotives. We can put engineers to work in much the same way we solved problems of spaceflight to design fuel-efficient, low-pollution locomotives capable of moving stuff from point A to point B easily and efficiently.

We already have a rail infrastructure. In the places where it has been neglected, we can put Americans to work rebuilding it. Americans can be employed building the locomotives and rolling stock for the trains, in running the trains, and getting goods and people to and from the trains once they are to the transportation hubs.

The plan is not without its problems, of course. Trucking companies and airlines, for two, will howl that business is being taken away from them. Let them howl. Whatever happened to working for the common good? Let them join in the new program if they can, or move out of the way if they can’t. Perhaps Boeing can start a ground transportation division.

I’m not ordinarily a big fan of burning coal, but I’m not convinced that coal would release more particulates into the air than our current transportation system does. Plus, the coal industry is working on ways to burn cleaner. The government could provide tax incentives to speed up the process.

And the best part is, this could be done without having to import oil at a higher price and faster pace. American can start itself on the road to recovery from our long national nightmare, and finally start weaning itself from the gas pump.

Well, wait. That’s the real problem, isn’t it?

This solution provides nothing for Big Oil, other than the use of legacy diesel stock and perhaps the purchase of lubricants and other ancillary fluids.

This plan makes too much sense.

It’s too good.

But for a few minutes there, it was a wonderful dream, wasn’t it?