Sunday, August 17, 2008

No. 4 - Manufacturing and Industrial Design

What is it about North American freight railroading that makes it unique? It has a look and esthetic that is unlike railroading anywhere else in the world.

Passenger Rail in North America used to be the same way.

Actually, with most of Amtrak, it still is. But with commuter rail not so much any more. And we have probably long given up the possibility that the coming revival of intercity Passenger Rail will look anything more that Global, or worse, European.

The extraordinary hiatus in development of purely American intercity passenger trains has given the rest of the world a leg up. Worse, we will never know what the evolution of the passenger train would have been had we just continued to run them in a quantity and at a speed that kept them in the public eye and mind. For instance, the trend toward bi-levels started with the Santa Fe equipment might have been more incentive for eastern routes with increased clearances. Fifteen years ago, Amtrak still had to devise Superliner-like interiors to fit into single-level cars still having to squeeze through tunnels that couldn't clear Superliners.

With the increase in sizes, would we now have a third or fourth generation of Super-Superliners that make Passenger Rail even more fuel efficient than it already is with broken-down antiques? With a continuity in design and volume of use, would green locomotive builders be targeting passenger use instead of just freight? We will never know.

Had we been building North American passenger cars right along, the cost of including integrated, state-of-the-art amenities (the full range of electronic media, the best of human creature comforts) might not be as great as it is now for single, disgustingly small (by car count) orders that come only once every two decades.

We The People have done ourselves a great disservice in settling for Amtrak.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

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