Sunday, December 31, 2006


As some readers of this blog know and others are about to learn, we are based in Albuquerque, NM. That wouldn't mean much, except that we have just been through the worst snowstorm to hit Albuquerque in about 50 years. (Records from 1959 were broken.)

In 1959, Albuquerque was served (well) by the Santa Fe and its generally reliable passenger schedule. Some of the great trains called at Albuquerque, and there were doodlebugs to El Paso, Amarillo and Santa Fe, with connections to the still operating Colorado narrow gauge system. History does not record how late the trains ran then, and it probably won't record how late they are running today.

But we will bet that they were not as late as Amtrak.

We don't exactly understand why Amtrak trains get as late as they get in snow. (As we write this, the eastbound California Zephyr, which is having to travel through the same snowstorm now in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, is running over 8 hours late. Amtrak's Web site is reporting a "service disruption" for the Southwest Chief through Albuquerque, so who knows!) The basic technology is the same as 1959: Diesel electric locomotives pulling stainless steel passenger cars which are self-sufficient for some functions and which depend on the locomotive for others. Even the high-level concept was already in operation.

Part of it, we are sure, has to do with the freight railroads and with the record volumes of rail freight being carried. Not only will the freight railroads tend to give money-making freight priority, but they will have to have more maintenance windows as the freights wear out the track faster than ever.

Another part of it, we are also sure, is the management of Amtrak and the general attitude that it no longer matters if anything is on schedule. The attitude that things are just too complex and it is all right if we get off schedule so long as we have a reasonable excuse, like snow.

In 1959, railroaders of all seniorities were, we are just as sure, called on the carpet for any delay at all.

Given the history of railroading in this country, and the history of railroads getting the passengers and mail through in all kinds of weather, Passenger Rail should be the transportation mode of choice in bad weather. It's not, but it should be.

Times change and commerce suffers if the free flow of goods is impeded. Commerce and something more abstract suffers, however, when the free flow of American travel is impeded. This nation was built on the free flow of goods and people, and something happens to the American psyche when goods become more important than people.

We hope that, in the New Year, the new congress finds a way to enable Amtrak or some form of national Passenger Rail to become what Passenger Rail should be.

May God bless us all with a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -
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