Friday, February 26, 2010
Mini-Review of "Waiting on a Train - The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service"
Trains have always played a significant role in my life. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Newburyport, MA (hard to imagine, given the town's current real estate prices!)), we had a spur track of the Boston & Maine Railroad running through our backyard. The train moved slowly enough over the old tracks that the kids in the neighborhood would often jump on the freight cars and ride them for several miles. My first symbolic dream as a very young child involved a vividly clear image of a steam locomotive merging with a diesel locomotive as they converged from opposite directions on the track that ran past our neighborhood. I would have been about six or seven years old when the last steam locomotive on our branch of the B&M gave way to progress and diesel power. As a kid, I had the obligatory electric train set - first the triple tracked scale, and eventually a small N-gauge layout. My final year of college, I paid tuition and living expenses by working as a switching foreman in the West Chicago yards of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.
As an adult, I was able to bring my family with me on a three-month trek by train from London to Kiev. I have logged many thousands of miles on the railroads of the former Soviet Union, Romania, Hungary, Serbia and beyond. So, clearly I have a special affinity for railroads. James McCommons book, therefore, attracted my attention when I first learned of it. This book is not a nostalgic look back at the "good old days" of passenger rail service in America. It is a very carefully reasoned and meticulously researched analysis of the current state of railroading in the U.S. and some very practicable suggestions for the future.
Michael Dukakis, former Vice-Chair of the Amtrak Board of Directors has written about this book: "This is a must read for anybody who cares about the transportation future of this country." I have had opportunities to speak with Governor Dukakis in the past about issues relating to Amtrak, so I personally know him to be both knowledgeable and passionate about our need to seize the potential for this country to more fully embrace the benefits of passenger rail service.
I echo the words of Governor Dukakis and encourage you to read this book. McCommons has done a great service to those of us who care about adding reliable and efficient rail travel to the menu of transportation choices in the U.S. - as well as for those who have not yet embraced the need for passenger rail service to be more widely available and efficiently operated. I think you may have his arguments convincing and compelling.