Sunday, September 12, 2010

Soup

I've recently been reading two books that have everything to do with Passenger Rail but nothing to do with Passenger Rail in the 21st century.  The first of these is a book called Super by Jim Lehrer.  Yeah, the same Lehrer who is a news commentator.  It's a novel that takes place aboard the Super Chief and environs in the 1950s.  I got an opportunity to board this train in Chicago a couple of times, and the book brings back the memories of the old low-level consists, before the high-level era and the addition chair cars to it.

What does this have to do with soup?  Let me tell you about the other book first.

The second book is Appetite for America by Stephen Fried.  It's a history of the Fred Harvey restaurant chain and how Mr. Harvey built the first "not fast food but good food fast" establishments in America - with the help of the Santa Fe.  Now to the soup.

Soup is made good or bad by what you throw into it.  But soup is never ever made with just one ingredient.  It's not even one main ingredient with a little spice, but many main ingredients worked in and cooked until the soup is just right.

Soup in something the Santa Fe had right.  Witness how the high-level concept became an Amtrak standard where the system could handle it.  Witness its ability to put together luxury trains that treated the passenger well and fed them better.  Fred Harvey was the food standard on the Santa Fe. 

In the 21st century, our ingredients for Passenger Rail soup are (in no particular order):  stimulus money (lots), antique equipment, plans for bit and pieces of a national high-speed rail system, plans to upgrade existing tracks to "higher speeds," performance contracts the the freight railroads are choking on, and a soupcon of new regular-speed long-distance routes.  Does anyone like paper soup?  Hope so, because 90% of our soup for the 21st century is paper.  Some of it stimulus money that hasn't been printed yet.  The dash of spice (the new routes) isn't going to help.

Are we going to choke on our soup like the freight railroads?

©2010 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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