Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service

Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service

by James McCommons, James Kunstler

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During the tumultuous year of 2008--when gas prices reached $4 a gallon, Amtrak set ridership records, and a commuter train collided with a freight train in California--journalist James McCommons spent a year on America's trains, talking to the people who ride and work the rails throughout much of the Amtrak system. Organized around these rail journeys, Waiting on a Train is equal parts travel narrative, personal memoir, and investigative journalism.

Readers meet the historians, railroad executives, transportation officials, politicians, government regulators, railroad lobbyists, and passenger-rail advocates who are rallying around a simple question: Why has the greatest railroad nation in the world turned its back on the very form of transportation that made modern life and mobility possible?

Distrust of railroads in the nineteenth century, overregulation in the twentieth, and heavy government subsidies for airports and roads have left the country with a skeletal intercity passenger-rail system. Amtrak has endured for decades, and yet failed to prosper owing to a lack of political and financial support and an uneasy relationship with the big, remaining railroads.

While riding the rails, McCommons explores how the country may move passenger rail forward in America--and what role government should play in creating and funding mass-transportation systems. Against the backdrop of the nation's stimulus program, he explores what it will take to build high-speed trains and transportation networks, and when the promise of rail will be realized in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603582599
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Publication date: 11/06/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 412,842
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

James McCommons has been a journalist for more than twenty five years and published hundreds of articles in magazines and major newspapers. A former senior editor at Organic Gardening magazine, he specializes in ecology and travel writing. He grew up in a railroad family and has spent thirty five years riding trains in America. He currently teaches journalism and nature writing at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.

Table of Contents

Baltimore : on the oldest railroad in America
Part 1. Through the Rockies and Sierras:
California Zephyr : here come your game boys and microwaves ; Sacramento : all you got now is Amtrak ; Train world : foamers and train spotters ; Real railroad world : the birth of Amtrak
Part 2. Pacific Northwest:
North Dakota : across on the hi-line ; Essex, Montana : at the Izaak Walton Inn ; The Cascades : locomotive problems ; Seattle : the "N" word: nationalization ; Amtrak Cascades : its all about frequency
Oregon : funding rail with vanity plates ; Empire builder : the best kept secret in America
Part 3. The Midwest:
Chicago : a third-world train set ; Madison : everything has six zeros in it Part 4: The Middle Atlantic:
Lakeshore Limited : but I don't want a burger ; The Acela Express : aboard America's fastest train ; Washington, D.C. : running out of capacity ; Norfolk, Virginia : make those people go away ; Raleigh, North Carolina : a state-owned railroad ; The Carolinian : national train day ; Union Station, Washington, D.C. : when railroads were bad to the bone ; The Capitol Limited : America rides these trains
Part 5: California: The Southwest Chief : on the transcon ; Pacific Surfliner : on board the California car ; The Coast Starlight : a California train inside and out ; Capitol Corridor : trains in the streets of Oakland ; Caltrans, Sacramento : a billion dollars ready to go ; High speed rail authority, Sacramento : building another Hoover dam ; California Railroad Museum, Sacramento : railroads become road kill ; Amtrak Western Division, Oakland : freight that talks ; California Zephyr : a stunning long way to go ; Colorado River : yak-yak on the radio ; Denver : waiting for those freighters
Part 6. Texas:
The Texas Eagle : diner lite ; Longview, Texas : Don't you get it? We don't care ; Houston : a pitiful harvest by bus ; Dallas : a Texas t-bone bullet train ; BNSF Headquarters, Fort Worth : We care. We really do ; Texas Eagle : no Mac and cheese
Part 7. The Northeast:
Hiawatha : deadly days ; The Capitol Limited : a complete washout ; Union Station, Washington, D.C. : the big lie of profitability ; Amtrak Headquarters : broken governance and the Amtrak haters ; Philadelphia : trains with people in them ; Boston : I was your governor ; Cambridge : mega-regions: 100 million more people ; The Downeaster : Maine's very own train ; Lake Shore Limited : Can I sit somewhere else?
Part 8. The Gulf Coast:
 City of New Orleans : on the main line of Mid-America ; Meridian, Mississippi : Interstate II in fifteen years ; New Orleans : Rail: the red-headed stepchild; CSX Headquarters, Jacksonville : Where's the vision, where's the money? ; Tallahassee : left without a Cadillac ; Silver Meteor : a bed and 600 miles ; Virginia Beach : Railpax: set up to fail ; Washington, D.C. : the freight-railroad boys
Epilogue. Pittsburgh : on train time again

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Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ArtRodrigues on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First of all McCommons should get some sort of medal for riding on almost all of Amtrak's distance or intercity trains. Despite his obvious fondness for train travel, McCommons experiences and obversations tell us what many of us who have patronized Amtrak know - that U.S. passenger train service leaves much to be desired. McCommons supplements his observations with interviews with a variety of train experts. The overriding theme is that Amtrak is starved for capital investment, and is left at the mercy of big freight railroads (who own most of the track) and politicians. The book was written at the dawn of the Obama Administration, so there was hope that capital appropriations in the form of fiscal stimulus, would begin to turn things around for Amtrak. There was some optimism generated by state investments and partnerships with Amtrak, which have created successful passenger service in the Pacific Northwest, California, the Northeast Corridor, among other areas. The book is a must read for anyone interested in U.S. passenger railroad policy. Given the cast changes in the works in 2008 (when the book was written), it would be most interesting to see what a sequel might reveal in terms of the improvements that were forecasted.
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