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Author Topic: Book Recommendation - 'Waiting on A Train'
notelvis
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Hey Folks,

Just this morning I finished reading a newly published book 'Waiting on A Train' by James McCommons.

I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in how Amtrak came to be, how it has become what it is, and what we may (or may not) see going forward.

The book is well-written, well-researched, and presented in equal-part travelogue and review of the state of transport policy in the United States. As part of his research, the author conducted interviews with folks at AAR, NARP, the DOT's in a number of states, people who were present at the birth of Amtrak, writers such as Don Phillips, and representatives from the corporate headquarters of three of the top four DI freight railroads.

Hopefully I'm not spoiling the read for anyone by saying that while the the author clearly would like to see more mass transit and better intermodal connectivity, he avoids falling into the trap of being just a foamer whining for more trains. He recognizes the challenges and seems to agree that the freight railroads need to be fairly compensated (and not negatively impacted) by handling additional passenger traffic.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Jerome Nicholson
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Just bought it, will read it after I finish "Eleven Minutes Late", about the state of British trains.
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notelvis
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The irony is that part of my reading was done while waiting to board Amtrak #73 in the Durham, NC train station.

More was done aboard #80 on the ride back to Durham!

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Several on-line retailers are presently offering this work; for ready reference, here is the ISBN:

ISBN: 9781603580649

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palmland
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quote:
Originally posted by Jerome Nicholson:
Just bought it, will read it after I finish "Eleven Minutes Late", about the state of British trains.

I gave 'Eleven Minutes Late" as a Birthday present to my brother who was headed to U.K. His view - after several trips in both England and Scotland including the overnight trains - was that the author seemed more critical of British trains than the reality warranted. Maybe we've just gotten used to Amtrak mediocrity and it's easy for trains in Europe to seem much better. I think it wasn't so much that that the equipment was superior, just the service was so good from all employees.
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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by Jerome Nicholson:
Just bought it, will read it after I finish "Eleven Minutes Late", about the state of British trains.

I'd be intrested in hearing what you think after having the chance to read it.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Presley, I'll buy it and endeavor to read it with an open mind. However, after a review of the "brief passage" at this E-tailer's site, it appears that this work is a pro-LD, pro-Green, pro NARP "vision", anti-Class I road, piece that will simply divert readers away from what 21st century freight and passenger railroading is all about - and it ain't about LD's beyond those needed for political expediency.

I cannot in any conscience use terms such as "hatchet job', without reading the work in its entirety and again I must endeavor to be open minded regarding the work. But if the 'brief passage" is indicative of the tone prevalent throughout the work, then I will have "problems".

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notelvis
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Mr. Norman,

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised when you read this book. Perhaps my point of view differs so much from yours to begin with that I came away with an entirely different message but to me the author does not seem to be promoting expansion of the LD trains and he does not seem to be merely a mouthpiece for NARP.

His message is more along the lines of corridor development....to the point of separate rights of way for freight and passenger..... and improve intermodal connectivity. He seems (to me) to agree with the idea that the freight railroads should not bear the burden of increased passenger traffic unless some other entity is ponying up the money for infrastructure improvements to allow such higher capacity.

He does hold the view that what LD's exist need to be preserved for network connectivity but stops short of endorsing any wholesale expansion.

His treatment of the freight railroads is pretty even-handed with only the Union Pacific being portrayed less than favorably. That would be because he was reliant on second person reports to frame Union Pacific's position. Union Pacific was the one major Class I that did not grant the author an interview or face time with a media relations person during his research. The encounters with folks at BNSF, NS, and CSX were reported as delivered and absent the snarkiness you might hear from a foamer.

Finally - the author goes to great lengthes to separate himself from the foamer set and I almost, almost believe him. The one thing that casts doubt is that he writes of taking the Thruway bus OVERNIGHT from his home in Marquette, MI to interface with the Amtrak system in Milwaukee.

Any person who would endure an all-night bus ride to catch a passenger train is at least a little foamer I believe!!!

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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On the strength of your thoughts, Mr. Presley, I think I'll hop in Lex Noir, make the trek up Route 83, and see if the Oak Brook Barnes and Noble or Border's has it (I really try to avoid on line shopping - just my age I guess).
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Jerome Nicholson
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
On the strength of your thoughts, Mr. Presley, I think I'll hop in Lex Noir, make the trek up Route 83, and see if the Oak Brook Barnes and Noble or Border's has it (I really try to avoiud on line shopping - just my age I guess).

I do practically all my book shopping online when it comes to rail matters - better selection, not just price.
But i did notice the B&N had a copy of "Waiting on a Train" after I got it from Amazon.
Of course, "Eleven Minutes Late" was only found online.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Border's had it in stock. Maybe "one of these days' (likely in another life) I'll buy something on-line.

I regularly book and pay for transportation and lodging on-line, as well as trade securities, but that is "about as far as it goes".

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notelvis
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My suggestion would be to read the Epilogue in which the author acknowledges that the route of the Cardinal......at least between Charlottesville and Cincinnati is never going to find itself part of an emerging corridor and that if Americans want better rail, somebody needs to be prepared to pay for it. That provides a nice balance for the excerpt found online.

What I found impressive was the number of people representing different interests that the author interviewed. The fun part is that he took himself to these interviews using much of the Amtrak system and reports, fairly accurately, the state of affairs between 2007 and mid-2009.

I assume my book was purchased online.....I don't know. It was a Christmas gift!

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Jerome Nicholson
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quote:
Originally posted by notelvis:
quote:
Originally posted by Jerome Nicholson:
Just bought it, will read it after I finish "Eleven Minutes Late", about the state of British trains.

I'd be intrested in hearing what you think after having the chance to read it.
It's all in perception. An American would find the British rail system fantastic based on its frequency alone. City pairs and regionals that are served once a day here get a dozen or more trains per day there. But a Brit will ride trains on the Continent and turn green with envy.

Ten years ago I drove a cab and I had an Italian passenger who said the Italian trains were the worst in the world. I asked him, "Are they worse than Amtrak?"
We both laughed.

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sojourner
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Thanks for the book recs. I will get the McCommons book from the library when I get back. I will also look for the British book but I don't think the library system has it.
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RRRICH
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I'll make it a point to go to our local Barnes & Noble at the Mall this weekend and look for the book! It sounds like a good read.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Rich, be sure to give either "major retailer's' website a check for stock status before heading off.

I have "no problem" with either major bookseller, both have outlets in Oak Brook Center that can be reached without having to "park in left field' and walk deep into the mall (and as you know, Rich, that is an outdoor mall), but I just don't want to plug one over the other.

Auto rental companies - a different kettle of fish; I readily plug Hertz simply because I shall not forget the night during November 2002 that they came out at Midnight and rescued me from my own negligence - leaving the headlights on. I realize that Enterprise has its fan base around here; to me that's the outfit the insurance company sends me to for some kind of wind up toy while my 'baby' is in the body shop thanks to the negligence of someone else.

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sfthunderchief
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There is another book I would like to recommend:

Alfred Runte's: Allies of the Earth-Railroads and the Soul of Preservation.

Perhaps or a kind of polemic essay, but embodying a lot of self-evident truth.

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sfthunderchief
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quote:
Originally posted by sfthunderchief:
There is another book I would like to recommend:

Alfred Runte's: Allies of the Earth-Railroads and the Soul of Preservation.

Perhaps a kind of polemic essay, but embodying a lot of self-evident truth.


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palmland
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As long as we're all going to bookstores, I thought I would mention one I received for Christmas. Published in 2009 by Time Out Guides, LTD (U.K.) the Great Train Journerys of the World is an armchair travelers delight. While it does not pretend to be a significant literary work, it seems well written for this type of book. It's worth checking out. I'm currently reading a section called Border Busters, with the current story about the Bernina Express in Switzerland.

Another one that does have some literary merit was written by Louis D, Rubin, Jr (retired Distinguished Professor of English from UNC at Chapel Hill and founder of Algonquin Books). The book is called 'A Memory of Trains - the Boll Weevil and Others'. It is quite short but also contains some excellent photos from the transition era. A Charleston, SC native, Rubin tells of his early years as a reporter and pursuit of his fascination with trains. Great tales primarily of the SAL, Southern and his days as a grad student at Johns Hopkins with northeast RR stories.

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Jerome Nicholson
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The London Telegraph has a great number of train voyages in its travel section. Now they have compiled many of them in "Last Call for the Dining Car - the Telegraph Book of Great Railway Journeys".
edited by Michael Kerr
It is packed full of travelogues on everything from the Canadian to the Eurostar to the Nairobi - Mombasa train to subways in NYC, London, Paris, and Tokyo.
And the quality of their writers is also a plus - any group that includes Michael Palin has to be good.

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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by sfthunderchief:
There is another book I would like to recommend:

Alfred Runte's: Allies of the Earth-Railroads and the Soul of Preservation.

Perhaps a kind of polemic essay, but embodying a lot of self-evident truth.

Well Mr. Thunderchief, I certainly agree that the work appears polemic but I guess for those who hold that the LD system should be expanded, possibly even by investor owned railroads to fulfil their "social responsibility', then this book (based upon reading the excerpted material here), is right up one's alley.

Be it assured, not my alley.

Again I note that "I like 'em and I ride 'em"; my experiences to date can be characterized as "more positives than negatives', But beyond those needed for political expediency (and, which in a perfect world, would be none) to ensure funding of what 21st century passenger railroading is all about - Corridors and commuters, the LD train simply is something on which the Adios drumhead should have been hung on A-Day Eve and likely much earlier than that.

Regarding the author's argument of "social obligation"...well I think anyone who follows the material I post here knows my thoughts on that one.

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rresor
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One more book I would recommend is "Train Time" by John Stilgoe. He is a professor at Harvard's School of Design. In the 1980s he wrote a book called "Metropolitan Corridor", which analyzed the impact of railroads on American settlement patterns in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He's brilliant and quirky, and a wonderful writer, and he believes in railroads. The book is well worth a read, among other things for its discussion of the Railway Express Agency of the 1930s, the extent of its coverage and how people in any small town could order things (like refrigerators) from catalogues and pick them up at the railroad station. He makes an interesting case for the return of such a distribution system. It's a good read, not polemical at all, more hopeful...and poetic.
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RRRICH
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I ordered "Waiting on a Train" last week, and picked it up at our local Barnes & Noble on Friday. I have begun reading it, and so far it's a pretty interesting read. It's not what you think it is, GBN (as mentioned in your post several posts up from this one) -- I agree with David P's ("Not Elvis") assessment of the book so far. The author interviews a number of people from both the Class 1's, the freight railroads which are not Class 1's, and passenger rail people (he devoted about one page only to NARP so far).

So far, the book appears to be an honest assessment of what the states, AMTRAK, and the traveling public are thinking nowadays about where we've been and where we should be going in terms of passenger rail -- yes he emphasizes corridors quite a bit, possible sources of funding and problems with such, and he also defends the Class 1's and their needs. (he also does not hesitate to document several problems with AMTRAK LD's......)

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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by RRRICH:
I ordered "Waiting on a Train" last week, and picked it up at our local Barnes & Noble on Friday. I have begun reading it, and so far it's a pretty interesting read. It's not what you think it is, GBN (as mentioned in your post several posts up from this one) -- I agree with David P's ("Not Elvis") assessment of the book so far. The author interviews a number of people from both the Class 1's, the freight railroads which are not Class 1's, and passenger rail people (he devoted about one page only to NARP so far).

So far, the book appears to be an honest assessment of what the states, AMTRAK, and the traveling public are thinking nowadays about where we've been and where we should be going in terms of passenger rail -- yes he emphasizes corridors quite a bit, possible sources of funding and problems with such, and he also defends the Class 1's and their needs. (he also does not hesitate to document several problems with AMTRAK LD's......)

Hey Rich......I'm glad that you're enjoying the book and also glad that your initial impression is similar to mine.

Interesting also that the author initially conducted interviews with representatives of NARP and the American Association of Railroads on the same day. The author wraps up his visit at AAR noting that after lunch he's going over to NARP for an 'opposing viewpoint'.

Not to be a spoiler, but the author later pays a second visit to AAR after one of his interview sources....in Meridian, MS....arranges for him to meet with 'someone higher up' at AAR.

The real strength of this book is the amount of research the author did and the number of interviews he did with people representing so many different.....and sometimes opposing....viewpoints. Of course if I were writing a book which involved taking the train all over the country to meet the people I was interviewing, I'd be looking to beef up the 'subject roster' myself.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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RRRICH
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Yes, you are so right, David -- this guy has done a lot of research, and interviews people of many different viewpoints. I particularly enjoy his detailed and colorful descriptions of some of the "characters" he has met in his journey! (like the woman in Oakland who freaked out when she missed her train when she wandered too far away from trainside, and the dining car attendant who told him they "ran out of food" during the very first meal served on the train, etc.)

I feel sorry for this guy on his overnight bus trips from Marquette, Mich. to Milwaukee to catch the train!

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notelvis
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Likewise - the only comfortable seat on a bus is the drivers seat and since the driver can't sleep, it's kind of a waste....

Irony here is that I've been to Marquette, MI a couple of times now -

In the 1970's my mother spent the summer working at a camp for handicapped children near Marquette which involved a family trip up to drop her off.

In 'present day', one of my wife's closest friends grew up in Marquette which caused us to visit there in the late 1990's as part of a larger trip which included the Algoma Central excursion train over and across the border in Ontario.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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HillsideStation
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Having learned the value of a dollar during my 30+ years in New Enlgand, I opted to order the book;Waiting On A Train from our local library.

As I read the book a quote at the end of Pacific Surfliner on page 131 stayed with me through out and is a telling observation:

"Amtrak works well as a partner with the states that are already making investments....it's not a place where you get a lot new thinking"

Too bad.
Best regards,
Rodger
P.S. The nearly $18 I saved subsidized lunch with the bride yesterday after our weekly volunteer gig at said local library.

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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by HillsideStation:



"Amtrak works well as a partner with the states that are already making investments....it's not a place where you get a lot new thinking"


My copy was a Christmas gift from my wife so you might say that my 'expense' was an equivalent gift which I bought for her!!!!

Be that as it may, this observation you quote is pretty typical of the entire book. Realistic. Not overly foamerish.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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delvyrails
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Found this by changing the topic recall time from 30 days to 60 days.

Managed to find a library copy, and I thought it so realistic, intelligent, and balanced in its approach that I ordered my own copy through Barnes & Noble. I've read a dozen or more books of this type since Peter Lyons' "To Hell in a Day Coach". McCommons' book has to be the least ideological of them all.

I have to disagree with those who see no need for long distance trains because I think that environmental considerations require an effective alternative to long distance driving, especially when it is done on a single-occupancy (high energy use per passenger mile) basis.

--------------------
John Pawson

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yukon11
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OK...thanks. Your post, David, is back. I will have to purchase and read this one. There was a review of it in issue 241 of Passenger Train Journal.

Richard

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Jerome Nicholson
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Read it and loved it! It's more than a Terry Pindell or Paul Theraux - type travelogue. It's more a description of how Amtrak succeds - and fails - according to how much support it gets from states and regions.
Outside the NEC, Amtrak's service in California is really good; Pacific Northwest is beautiful.

Texas and Florida intercity service is essentially non - existent because those states contribute nothing.

This was a very readable book; much more so than "Eleven Minutes Late", about British rail travel. I never did finish that one!

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notelvis
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Thanks for breathing new life into my recommendation. It is a surprisingly balanced book.

I'm going out riding again next week...... Cardinal RT Prince to Charlottesville Wed & Fri with a daytrip to DC using the newly expanded regional train on Thursday.

Can't wait.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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City of Miami
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Just got if from the San Antonio PL. Brand new. Thanks for the tip.
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yukon11
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I just finished reading the book, and agree with all the comments, above. Yes, McCommons is no "foamer" (dyed-in-the-wool rail fan). In fact, he make copius remarks with regard to Amtrak problems....on time performance, food, equipment problems, surly attendants, etc. I was also pleased he brought out problems with train-to-train connectivity. However, McCommons is very interested in the resurgence on the passenger train in America.

McCommons feels that no other region is more poised to bring back a modern, passenger train system than the Midwest. He points out the benefits of bringing a modern service between Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha. He points out the hassle of airport transportation, in this region, with cities too close for rational air flights but too far away for the automobile. He also likes the future potential for the Capitol Corridors, the Cascades, the North Carolina Railroad Co., and others.

Toward the end of the book, in the chapter "Philadelphia", the author met with Mr. Craig Lewis of the Norfolk Southern. McCommons asked Mr. Lewis "Would these big railroads (freight railroads) that control most of the rail network, in America, and are hostile to passenger trains, actually consider moving people again?" "The answer was "maybe". Lewis went on to say "Somebody else is going to be out there on our railroad"." Are we going to have any direct control on how they promote safety, instill the culture, or train their people?""The answer is no."" Maybe Norfolk Southern should be doing this are getting compensated for it."" This could be a business opportunity".

It seems, to me, that Mr. Lewis realizes that public supported and government subsidized railroads will have more of a passenger rail component based on public demands.

Richard

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notelvis
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I would suggest......and have more-or-less confirmed by exchanging emails with the author shortly after reading the book..... that McCommons is a little more of a foamer than he admits.....

As evidence I remind you that he sometimes catches the Thruway Bus OVERNIGHT from Marquette, MI to Milwaukee (which is not a short ride) to catch the train.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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City of Miami
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I read the book and didn't particularly like it - I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I learned nothing from it that I didn't know already from the many posts on various rail forums. I did finish it though. Parenthetically, Jim Lehrer is on NPR Diane Ream Show this morning talking about trains. He doesn't really have anything to say either IMO.
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Gilbert B Norman
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One third of the way through it. Hold same thought as Mr. Presley regarding the author's overnight bus ride.

But I should note, that I am finding Mr. McCommons' work to be more balanced that I had expected. It is also interesting to learn that the NCDOT trains operate over a State owned railroad. Likely, the initiative would never have gotten the "highball" if access had to be sought from a Class I.

However, I must be skeptical when I learn of the author's absolute prohibition on auto rentals while doing his research. I can understand riding about on the LD's - even Coach as it is part of same. But the first observation suggests there is some kind of social agenda afoot. Also, while I'm not about to fault him for dressing down in jeans and T-shirt for travel (hey, when I fly I see enough 'road warriors' doing just that nowadays) but a backpack? uh, that simply discredits him as a researcher ostensibly investigating the need for passenger rail during the 21st century - and stereotypes him as one of the "colorful characters" with whom anyone riding the LD's eventually come in contact (observed one such aboard #58(7)).

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notelvis
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Regarding the 'dressing down', I am currently revisiting an old favorite book of mine 'Blue Highways'. The author is a recently divorced and just laid off college professor who drives around the country searching for himself by sticking mostly to the back roads......

Not plugging the book at all but it's interesting to think about what his observations might be today..... some thirty years after his original journey......

Thanks for the good word about the 'balance' of 'Waiting on a Train' Mr. Norman. Given what we believe McCommons' position to be from the outset, he does a surprisingly good job of laying out the circumstances in a way that villianizes no one...... with the possible exception of the UP.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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I'm now @ page 189 of 277 (2/3rds done). Concerning "balance", while I realize that the author sought interviews with each of the four roads (UP declined - dumb!!) and it appears about four advocacy groups, the balance would have been complete had he sought interviews with the real anti-Amtrak factions (I consider the industry is simply Kubler-Ross Phase V regarding Amtrak) such as Heritage (Dr. Utt's outfit), American Enterprise, or Reason.

While likely I will not ever have occasion to read more of Alfred Runte's: "Allies of the Earth' than the excerpts Mr. Google offers, that appears to be a work sadly lacking any semblance of balance.

Addendum: 615P CT Done!

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RR4me
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Just to fill in my slowly expanding RR IQ, what does the parenthetical 7 mean in the phrase "...aboard #58(7)"?
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