Friday, November 25, 2005

Raise Your Hand If You Don't Get It

Before I go off on the rant that I’d planned for this entry, let me just take you to this article. It caught my attention, because it is just further evidence of the strange and wonderful phenomenon that is taking place in the heartland. I am referring to common sense and practicality, two commodities that had become almost completely missing during the Clinton years and that promised to be relegated to obscurity as debates over the War on Terror heated up.

Here we have a passenger rail entity that, by almost every account, does everything wrong. Even though most of the beautiful people of Iowa know that Amtrak (reportedly) does everything wrong, they are willing to patronize it more than ever before. Some probably did it because it made common sense to ride the train. (High gas prices and crowded highways, bankrupt airlines, body cavity searches of Grandma and Grandpa Terrorist) Others probably did it because it was practical. (The station was right down the street and Uncle Wormy was going to pick them up at Union Station and drive them to his place.) I would bet that another bunch of the extra 7000 riders did it because of both common sense and practicality and also because they started to realize that the Federal Government has put Amtrak on a downward slide and they may never get the chance again.

My rant for today was going to be on one of two other subjects, and I won’t have time for them both. So I will cover how Bill Richardson is screwing up commuter rail for New Mexico in my next blog.

The remaining subject is how quickly “old media” is ready to condemn the passenger railroad for something it didn’t do. Read the recent articles in the Chicago Tribune, such as this one. This article was written after some common sense people started looking at the cause of this accident. But when it had just happened, all the wire services were reporting that the train’s engineer was being questioned for purposes of determining “human error.” Except this time, the human error was with the dunderheads that pulled out over a well-marked, warning-posted busy commuter line and stopped in traffic. What part of “long crossing, do not stop on tracks” didn’t they understand?

© 2005 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's My Blog!

I can be biased if I want to be. It’s my blog, after all, and in my little corner of the Internet, I can say what I want. (Subject, of course, to the rules and regulations of this wonderful host that, through its infinite grace, allows my blog to stay on the Web—followed by giant sucking sound.)

I don’t have to present the other side of the Amtrak Board Fires David Gunn Story. But here it is, from about as Conservative a source as you can get. Please read this article.

If you have read far enough into this article, you will find that it begs the question:

Does A Conservative Have a Heart?

The author of the article makes a pretty good argument about why Mr. Gunn should have been fired, and then he buries the rest of his article in the statistics of telling Mr. Gunn what he should have done.

I agree. Cutting sleeping cars and diners from the trains would have saved a lot of money. Or would it?

Passenger trains are more than cold, hard, money-losing transportation machines. Passenger trains have an emotional life. They have a historical life, and a tradition. They are a culture unto themselves. And if you strip out the heart and soul of the long-distance passenger train, you may as well be riding in a commuter coach on a one-hour ride to your high-rise office in the city.

Nobody will want to ride them, but maybe that’s what the Bush administration wants.

There are certain things that the passenger train must retain. Starting with reasonable comfort and reasonable timeliness, the list also includes food and beverage service, sleepers, the service of a fine hotel, and the conveniences of everyday life (morning paper, a midnight snack, etc.). To bring the passenger train into this century, perhaps we also need wireless Internet and satellite radio, but these new things aren’t part of the heart and soul. (By the way, I would draw the line at Dish Network, even for the 21st Century list.)

I don’t know if passenger trains will ever be as good as they were “back in the day.” I don’t know if anything will. Our quality of life seems to have peaked sometime in the last century. (I’m sure that about 30,000 GM workers will agree with that statement.)

But I do know that only a political conservative without a heart could strip off the diners and the sleepers and still think he was riding “a train.” Let’s crunch whatever numbers are necessary to get long-distance passengers back on the railroad, but let’s not gore the heart and soul out of the passenger train.

©2005 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, November 14, 2005

That's Just Peachy!

That’s just peachy.  See this article.

The Amtrak board of Bush sycophants has fired David Gunn, and thereby has decapitated the dying patient in the presumed interest of saving the organs.  That’s all that will be left when they get done, the organs will be sold to the highest bidder or apportioned among those states that may still want a remnant of intercity passenger rail.

Poor Mr. Gunn.  In this writer’s humble opinion, though possibly sometimes the most infuriating president that Amtrak has ever had, he is the single most experienced and capable president Amtrak has ever had.  And he “slowed the pace of change,” the stated reason for his dismissal, because he recognized that it was the only way to accomplish what needed to be done in terms of preserving any realistic system.  

Mr. Gunn had Amtrak on the road to financial stability.  This infuriated the Bush Administration and Amtrak’s so-called board, because they wanted him to fail at this task.  They saw him as the last of the breed and the highly-experienced scapegoat for the agency’s ultimate collapse.  Instead he became—what appeared to most of us interested in intercity passenger rail—a savior.  

Perhaps the board will hire New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who is doing a bang-up job of getting New Mexico back on passenger rail by letting us all watch the equipment stand idle near the abandoned Santa Fe shops in Albuquerque.  If he decides to park the equipment from the Southwest Chief there, I, for one, won’t watch it.  

Write your representative.  Write your Senators.  Legislation is the only thing that is going to stop this slide into oblivion that will make the United States the only major industrialized nation that does not have nationwide intercity rail passenger service.  

© 2005 – C. A. Turek –