2009-07-02 / Editorial

Lessons learned, from windmills to transportation


My wife and I are in Germany to visit our teenage daughter, who is participating in a student exchange. The young German woman with whom she is living came to our home in Jamestown last year. So, we came over to meet the rest of her family and to explore.

We have found that Germany is light years ahead of us in transportation and alternative energy production.

First of all, the German rail system is outstanding. There’s an old saying that you can set your watch by the trains in Germany. That is not quite true – we’ve seen a few trains that were several minutes late (much to our benefit!). What does hold true, however, is that one can travel most anywhere in Germany via commuter rail. No car is necessary. Missed the train? Another one will be along shortly.

Such a train system would be an obvious boon to our well-populated New England. A reliable commuter train system would reduce our nation’s overall energy consumption. It would also decrease the vast amounts of unhealthy pollution created by automobiles.

It is ironic that in the early 1900s, General Motors helped dismantle the commuter train system that was already in place in many areas of our country in order to sell more diesel buses. Today, we’re bailing out GM and our streets are gridlocked by vehicles that belch fumes into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, a commuter rail system is virtually non-existent.

Another transportation observation: bicycles are everywhere in Germany and are encouraged. Many streets have bicycle lanes that are well marked. You can also take your bicycle along on the train. There are plenty of bike racks to store your two-wheeler once you reach your destination.

The Germans are also leading the way in producing energy without using fossil fuels. There are windmills – massive, two-blade and three-blade turbines, like the one we should build in Jamestown – across the countryside. When you look closely, you also see that the rooftops of many homes have solar panels that are used to heat their water.

The Germans also black out a room or building that is not in use. Flip one switch and all the electricity is off. That way those little electronic devices (like the television, video player and computer) are not sucking up expensive electricity when you are not there.

I’ll have more observations and commentary on my blog, Island Time, at www.JamestownPress.com.

— Jeff McDonough

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