The carbon-neutral express

Tony Balis

Former Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Martha’s Vineyard last week to take the lead in the essential task of creating carbon-neutral communities. Speaking in stark, impassioned, and unequivocal terms about addressing Earth’s climate catastrophe, he told a packed audience of Islanders in the West Tisbury Elementary School gym, “There is no reason Martha’s Vineyard can’t set an example for the whole nation!” 

Meanwhile, bumper to bumper, inch by inch, our precious time wastes away on Island roads, as the pleasures and demands of summertime await their delayed address sometime up ahead, beyond the gridlock, beyond the horizon of sane acceptance. Our job, our doctor, our reservation, our rendezvous, the beach, the store, the gallery, the meal, the ferry — all simmer in various shades of expectancy at the far end of frustration.

So here’s a suggestion: Build a solar- or wind-powered light rail between Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Katama (mimicking, in fact, the route of the narrow-gauge steam train that Edgartown constructed in only four months in 1874, designed to prevent Oak Bluffs from keeping all the tourist dollars). The Dutch, for but one of many examples, have run their national railway entirely on wind energy since 2017. 

A “Carbon-Neutral Express” running from the Oak Bluffs wharf to Depot Corner in Edgartown (move the jail and make that location the main light rail station) would make it way more attractive not to use a car on M.V., taking a large percentage of vehicles off the roads. Shopping? Beach? Dinner? Simply “Ride the Express!” Don’t even think about parking or traffic. Have a drink or two without having to drive home or take a cab. 

Imagine a silent and comfortable train designed with a Vineyard motif that blends into its shore surround. Add local art and a changing exhibit from the M.V. Museum. Include a food and beverage car, even a package delivery and baggage car. Run it every 20 minutes, costing maybe $5 for a day pass. Make it seasonal for 90 days, from June 15 to Sept. 15. Design it to move smoothly and quietly along the shore. It’s about need, not speed. 

The rails, in fact, could be custom-designed for environment, season, and weather, almost hidden along the bike paths and through town, planted out of sight. Sections of rails might be removable each fall in whatever seasonally vulnerable places suggest it. One track would suffice, with two trains running each way, passing in the middle on a side track at the Jaws Bridge. It would cross Beach Road in two or three places, but an occasional 60-second stop for drivers is nothing. Add a separate track to Katama from a station near the Edgartown firehouse. What about a State Forest run west to Alley’s? 

Next time you are stuck in traffic, imagine this: reliable, efficient, sensible, easy, fun, quiet, comfortable, safe and, not least, carbon-neutral transportation on the summer Vineyard. 


Tony Balis is president of the Humanity Initiative.


  1. Strictly public transportation or smaller minimal footprint vehicles. Look at Amsterdam walking lanes bike lanes and vehicle lanes. Big boys and your Big Clean trucks? The lumberyards deliver. How many times are we getting toilet paper with an suv clogging up the roadways not toilets. Lol the hypocrisy is so blatant. How much litigation is needed to create useful bike paths from town to town. I would never recommend any family to bike any of these towns. And I do not, as I serve them in the local restaurants and they ask me “What should we do while we are here?”
    Useless unrealistic approach DPW’S sweeping bike paths Days after the 4th of July and not before. Watching certain select persons scoff at progressive safety needs only show the lack of human interest while apathy is somehow breathing.
    25 years of watching egos over common good.
    Nice sunsets though.

    • Truxton, could you please rephrase your post? I understand what BS is saying, and in light of electric buses, agree with it. I infer BS to mean that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. We already have that for which the article is calling. Straight and to the point. I admit that I am having trouble following what you are trying to say. Without sarcasm, I am asking you what your point is.

      • Hi Bulkington. Please excuse my rant. I wrote it at a time of general frustration.
        I agree with BS as well. The VTA is a wonderful transportation option when everyone can fit during busy season.
        Although the express is a little far fetched, let us start with proper bike lanes from port of entry and then continued through each town to where the real bike lanes start. Not a narrow road in the towns, with an unusable bike lane. Where traffic, injuries and death have occurred.
        My other concerns are watching no common ground met in town and state road planning when it comes to accurate signage and street sweeping. Which, in turn, reveals a lack gumption when it comes to making solid plans that a town domain, in accordance with pedestrians and vehicles alike, have safety being #1 priority.
        A Civil Engineer is badly needed.

    • your help– about 50 years to be completely impassable, but the state will raise the road, and you will forget about that. How many times has beach road been closed in the past 5 years due to storms ?
      Sea level is coming up at about 1/8 inch a year– you are parroting radical right wing commentators that make millions of dollars a year convincing the willfully ignorant that the “leftist” have been making ridiculous claims about sea level rise.

        • Well, TQ, at least you were able to stay on the topic of the article. Thank you for your insightful and wholly relevant remark.

        • Tq– interesting you refer to Obama as my “god” just after trump declared himself “the chosen one”.
          Obama is very concerned about sea level rise, but he knows it is not occurring at a rate that the republicans say the democrats say it is–
          If it comes up the expected 3 to 6 ft by the end of this century, Obama will be gone and the house will still be there. But some people are concerned about future generations, and the world we will leave them. Any questions ?– or on topic comments ?

  2. Instead of talking about plastic straws and minor changes in behavior that won’t change anything, let’s have the Dems present legislation in the House that bans all private aircraft—-all of it. That would indeed reduce the footprint big time.

    • Andrew — apparently George does not like my comment that you would happily stuff plastic straws up the noses of turtles– ok i see that, and i will not say that here– i apologize for implying that.
      I am sure you would never actually do that.
      but hopefully, george will let the real point of my comment stand:
      I hereby modify it to reflect a more understanding and inclusive point of view. :
      Andrew– finally you have a sensible comment Banning all private aircraft would help ==
      And while we are at it–
      how about a limit on the size of single family homes to 1000 sq ft.
      A $5 a gallon carbon tax on gas ( that would get us to real world prices)
      have the police departments enforce the law and fine people for leaving their cars running
      increase cafe standards to 75 mpg ( technologically feasible)
      Declaring the republican party , and the nra terrorist organizations
      Impeach the president.
      Those would help a lot–
      if we passed all my proposals , you could buy all the plastic straws you want for $ 10 a pop with thump’s name on them, and i would not ever criticize you for it or what you would do with them –we live in a free market economy after all..
      Peace love and pasta

Comments are closed.

Previous articleTaking flight
Next articleBradshaw sworn in as Chilmark fire chief