Reflections on a Trip

Six years ago today, I published post number one, on Nebraska Energy Observer. As with many others, I tried to draw conclusions from observations. Those tend to be the posts I like best, although I simply don’t post things I don’t like. It’s been I long haul, six years, 2703 posts, over 19,000 comments and all. It’s also been a lot of fun, and I suspect it has been for some of you, as well.

We’ve commented often that so many bloggers who were around when I started have fallen by the wayside, I think probably three-quarters of the blogs I read now, didn’t exist then and 80% of those I read then are gone, and some that remain have changed completely. It’s not easy, but what worthwhile ever is? I find that I occasionally have to take breaks from it, but I feel incomplete when I do, and that’s why often I will schedule some older posts that keep drawing readers over my breaks.

I started the blog because I was bored, and needed something ‘productive’ to do, and was already (in 2011) completely fed up with Obama. I never thought it was going to make me rich. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s such I long shot that I don’t even try, and so I can stay true to what I believe. Neither did I think I would still be writing it today, but it has become a habit, maybe an obsession.

In any case, thanks for reading, and commenting here, it means more to me than you can imagine, and probably more than is good for me. This is the post published six long years ago, and still one of my favorites. It was titled “Reflections on a Train Trip”.


I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever travelled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to reflect on whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Read more of this post

Advertisements

Amtrak, Frankford Jct, and the Laws of Physics

Amtrak Train 188 carrying 238 passengers and five crew derailed late Tuesday night, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train was traveling 106mph when it entered a 50 mph curve at Frankford Junction, the NTSB said.

Amtrak Train 188 carrying 238 passengers and five crew derailed late Tuesday night, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train was traveling 106mph when it entered a 50 mph curve at Frankford Junction, the NTSB said.

Well, I guess we know enough that we can talk a bit about the Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia. I note that lack of knowledge hasn’t really stopped anyone else, who seem to mostly be special pleaders for increased Amtrak funding. Well, guess what? I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Amtrak. I tend to take it east about once a year. But that’s a planned trip, and I have the time, and I enjoy the relaxed pace. If I have to go any other time, or on a schedule, well, I fly like everyone else.

Here’s the thing, in the northeast corridor, given it clientele, which is business travelers, going downtown to downtown, there is absolutely no reason Amtrak can’t make a profit. It’s basic fare should be based on flying between Washington, New York, and Boston, including surface travel from the airport to downtown on both ends, because that is the service it provides. Last time I looked it was slightly cheaper than the bare airfare between those points, therefore it is enjoying an unfair advantage in its fare structure. I’d bet that if you’re going downtown in those cities, it’s also faster, especially the Acela service, so it should command a premium price.

Understand rail service has costs that others don’t. Nobody who can add two plus two really thinks that gasoline taxes fund all the road building and repair that we do, they likely collect enough but far too much gets siphoned off. Neither does air travel pay for all the infrastructure involved. Railroads are expected to maintain their own rights-of-way and that’s not overly fair until the other modes do as well. But, I personally, am not willing to talk about increased subsidies in the corridor, until they are willing. to charge a fair price for the service they provide. Do that for a couple of years, and then we’ll see.

That’s the corridor. I see no reason at all, except perhaps an unwillingness to anger its supporters amongst the elite for Amtrak not to make a profit in the corridor. That’s a political decision, and a poor one, in my mind, if you can make a profit, well, why not?

Outside the corridor, it’s an entirely different ball game. Like I said, I enjoy taking the train but, it’s neither efficient, nor cheap, nor convenient. Out here, I drive almost as far to get the train as I do to get on a plane (also subsidized) and once I do, it will take me about 36 hours to arrive, if it stays on time.

Frankly the diner sucks, it’s better than the airlines, which is not much of an accomplishment but, not as good as say Perkins. Back in the day, eating in the diner was a fine dining experience, I doubt I’m the only one who had his first really good food on the train, so it can be done but its not being done, probably because it’s not demanded. The cafe car/lounge car/snack car really sucks, unless you have a liking for microwaved frozen pizza to go with a six dollar can of Budweiser.

The thing is, a bank of vending machines would be as good, with a couple of microwaves, there must be a vending machine that can read an ID for controlling sales of beer and such, instead of paying somebody (and to be honest they are nice somebodies, I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t like) around $40/hour to send that car.

That’s true incidentally for all the train service people, I’ve absolutely nothing bad to say about them, nice people doing their best. But long distance train travel in a country this big just doesn’t make economic sense, it perhaps did, when we shipped the mail this way (mail service was better then too, by the way) but without that, it can’t possibly make money, it hasn’t since about 1900 in fact, and the railroad tried hard for most of the twentieth century..

But by comparison, even out here on the prairie, I’m nearly as close to an airport (the time of day is more convenient as well) and my trip takes about six hours, and that mostly because I have to change planes in Denver, and yes, it also costs less. Quite a lot less, in fact. And so, as much as I enjoy taking the train, I’m considering giving up and flying as well.

This particular wreck increasingly looks like it was simply a case of the engineer speeding, something like 107 mph in a 50 mile curve, that would make it completely analogous with the wreck of the Lake Shore Limited on the New York Central on Gulf Curve in Little Falls, New York back on 19 April 1940. You just can’t break the laws of physics, and when you try, people tend to get hurt and die.

You just can’t fix stupid, not even with tax money.

Reflections on a Train Trip

I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever traveled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to reflect on whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: