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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.
McCommons sets out to rectify American ignorance of passenger trains by describing his rail travels around the United States in 2008. He writes of the people he meets, the scenery, the long decline in American rail travel, and its emerging renaissance, interweaving discussions he has had with dozens of the leading minds on American passenger rail. McCommons explains that Amtrak has been starved for funding since its 1971 inception but argues that a brighter future is coming with increased funding from the Obama administration, states working on regional plans, a new spirit of cooperation from the freight railroads, and the 2008 four-dollars-a-gallon gasoline price, which refocused the public's attention on rail travel. Still, he's objective, and though repetitious, his narratives get the mood of train travel right. He's at his best when deftly connecting the lack of a salad in a dining car with bigger issues like Amtrak's funding. VERDICT: Essential reading for rail fans, policymakers, and anyone curious about the future of transportation.
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
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 6th November 2009
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing