UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 17, 2009

WE HAVE THE SAME RAIL MILEAGE AS IN 1881 AND TRAINS ARE SLOWER THAN THEY WERE 60 YEARS AGO

Tom Vanderbilt, Slate - There is at least one technology in America, that is worse now than it was in the early 20th century: the train.

I have recently been poring over a number of prewar train timetables. . . They are fascinating, filled with evocations of that fabled "golden era" of train travel. . .

The most striking aspect of these antiquated documents is found in the tiny agate columns of arrivals and destinations. It is here that one sees the wheels of progress actually running backward. The Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York's Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal's (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York's Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak's Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad's Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak's Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours-if it's on time, which it isn't, nearly 75 percent of the time. . .

But Obama's bold [railroad] vision obscures a simple fact: 220 mph would be phenomenal, but we would also do well to simply get trains back up to the speeds they traveled at during the Harding administration. Consider, for example, the Burlington Zephyr. . . which barreled from Chicago to Denver in 1934 in a little more than 13 hours. . . It was not uncommon for the Zephyr or other trains to hit speeds of more than 100 mph in the 1930s. Today's "high-speed" Acela service on Amtrak has an average speed of 87 mph and a rarely hit peak speed of 150 mph. . .

What happened? I put the question to James McCommons, author of the forthcoming book Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service. As with most historical declines, there is no single culprit but rather a complex set of conditions. One reason is rail capacity. From the Civil War to World War I, the number of rail miles exploded from 35,000 to 216,000, hitting a zenith of 260,000 in 1930 and falling by 2000 to less than 100,000-the same level as in 1881

MUCH MORE

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home