20.8.18

MARKING OFF.

There's probably a disquisition somewhere on the relative merits of having streetcars stop on the near side of the street corner, and loading from the front, or stopping on the far side of the street corner, and loading from the rear.  Perhaps another day.


Find yourself a preservation railroad and support its efforts.  Generally, they'll scale back operations after Labor Day.

MORE TRAINS, MORE COVERAGE, MORE THINGS TO SEE.

Florida's Brightline service has added more frequency, now that there are additional tracks to keep the freight trains out of the way, and they're thinking about where to terminate in Tampa.
Following the completion of switch and signal cutovers that permit more fluid freight and passenger operation, weekday schedules have been expanded from 11 to 16 round trips. After an existing 5:30 a.m. West Palm Beach departure, trains now leave every hour on the hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., except 1 p.m. Going north, trains now leave Miami at 13 minutes past every hour from 7:13 a.m. to  11:13 p.m., missing only the 3:13 p.m. trip.

Weekend schedules remain unchanged at eight round trips Saturday and seven Sunday with every-other-hour service, but timings have been adjusted to conform with the weekday “memory” schedules at all three stations.

The most significant addition is the 6 a.m. West Palm Beach departure, which expands options for commuters headed for downtown Miami.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times reports that Brightline is evaluating three possible sites for a station in downtown Tampa, Fla., should the company win a competitive bid to extend its proposed Orlando International Airport “Phase 2” terminus. Three locations where local officials have detected interest are the site of a former jail near an existing bus transit center, land adjacent to Tampa Union Station (where Amtrak’s Silver Star stops), and an older 370-unit apartment complex whose owners could be persuaded to sell, according to observers.
Ben Porritt, Brightline corporate affairs vice president, told the Times in a statement “We’re analyzing a set of options that will work with the alignment of the proposed route and offer unique development opportunities, which will help establish this as a destination.”
Put another way, the development-oriented transport model they follow will not be abandoned in a rush to serve the rest of the state.  There are now four companies submitting proposals for the Orlando to Tampa leg of the service. As far as those commuter-friendly schedules, we'll see how long until those fixed formation train sets become incompatible with peak-load pricing or building ridership.

Apparently the service has sufficient cachet that travel columnists can recommend all manner of upscale stuff within walking or ride-share distance of the three active stations.  If I had known some of these things four months ago, I might have budgeted for more time in West Palm.

A columnist calling his site Car Free America offers a number of observations on what makes Brightline distinctive.
Because the service is more inter-city rail than commuter rail, its usefulness for commuters may be limited to people who live and work around the downtowns of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm. With adjacent development happening as part of Brightline service and new high rises going up throughout all three downtowns, this commuter market will grow in coming years. I could imagine someone living in downtown WPB, working in downtown Miami and using the service every day to avoid I-95 traffic. The price of monthly Brightline passes will need to be competitive to make this commuting option a reality, though.
Traffic congestion and parking charges do a lot to induce people onto the trains: thus the Naperville Zephyrs on twenty-minute headways during Chicago's rush hours, and Amtrak selling multiple-ride tickets on the Hiawatha for and from Milwaukee.

Although this author mischaracterizes Brightline as the first privately-funded higher-speed train service (you admittedly have to have a long memory to remember 75 minute Hiawathas and six hour Twin Zephyrs for and from St. Paul) he's correct about this competition (the people staffing the Brightline stations don't think in those terms) with the local Commuter Rail operators.
I wouldn’t call Brightline “high-speed” rail like their marketing materials tout. Service was interrupted on the way back from West Palm Beach due to train traffic, and several at-grade crossings slowed service down to a crawl, but as the nation’s first privately funded passenger rail service, this first phase of service does a very good job. It also serves as a model for future public sector transit expansions in an increasingly competitive market. While Brightline isn’t competing with Uber or Lyft because of the large distances between stations, other commuter rail and light rail projects are competing with them. This means public sector transit projects need to up their game and not take riders for granted anymore – just like Brightline is doing.

Whether the Brightline approach will catch on elsewhere, or whether the train takes on aspects of a rolling gated community remain to be seen.

HELPING ELECTRICITY KEEP ITS OWN BOOKS?

Marginal Revolution reported on a new development in pumped storage of electricity.
In April, the Bureau of Land Management approved an ARES—that's Advanced Rail Energy Storage—project, conceived by a Santa Barbara-based energy startup called, well, ARES. By 2019, ARES operations head Francesca Cava says, the facility will occupy 106 acres in the excellently-named town of Pahrump, Nevada. By running a train up and down a hill, ARES can help utilities add to and subtract from the grid as needed.
It's an interesting concept, I hope Warren Buffett or somebody at Union Pacific or the Canadian roads or the eastern trunk lines is paying attention.
When the local utility's got surplus electricity, it powers up the electric motors that drag 9,600 tons of rock- and concrete-filled railcars up a 2,000-foot hill. When it's got a deficit, 9,600 tons of railcar rumble down, and those motors generate electricity via regenerative braking — the same way your Prius does. Effectively, all the energy used to move the train up the hill is stored, and recouped when it comes back down.

ARES may not like the term pilot project—it's already built a demonstration track in California—but Pahrump's new $55 million energy storage system has a lot to prove. This first official outing will start small, providing only ancillary services—that is, helping utility companies make relatively minor adjustments in their electricity output and input.
Sometimes, the contemporary generation of techies ignorance of history is amusing. What your Prius does is the same thing your gearless bipolar passenger motor was doing, a century ago.


Olympian Hiawathas meet at Francis, Montana, September 1957
John Karlson photograph.

Look, kids, this isn't rocket science.
[W]hile the science behind ARES—rocks and gravity, mostly—is low-tech, that doesn't make for a cheap project. The company needs to pour money into the on-the-ground electronics and telecommunications equipment, and into bringing railcars up to their specifications. Andy Lubershane, a senior analyst with IHS Emerging Energy Research, says the setup is more expensive per kilowatt-hour "than almost anything else on the market today."

Ravi Manghani, a senior energy storage analyst at GTM Research, urges a "wait and watch approach." "Any new technology has to go through some big hurdles," he says.

And yet, the simplicity of this setup is appealing. Train goes up, train comes down. If only you could catch a ride, too—which ARES says is a very bad idea. "This is a different scenario in terms of safety and weight," Cava says, meaning you can’t just run these trains through DC Metro's infrastructure. They're way too heavy. Sorry to say the future of energy storage won't look like Magic Mountain at all.
Have they considered working with real railroads hauling real freight cars (which are heavy, and they're doing real work)?  Here's the situation:  the most reliable winds blow across the Empty Quarter, along and west of the hundredth meridian and east of the Rockies.  That's also where the Powder River coal originates, and the grain and cattle to feed the world (well, once Our President's tariff follies settle out) is either harvested or packed.

The way to export electricity to the thickly settled parts of the country might be to move it by rail.  "[O]ne possible solution to the problem of transmitting electricity from the wind belt of the Empty Quarter to the power grids of the populated areas is to electrify the coal lines, thus reducing the railroads' use of diesel fuel to move the coal."

As the coal and grain are dependable shipments for the railroads, but not the most time-sensitive stuff on rails, why not path the cross-country trains in such a way that they go up the mountains when the wind-augmented grid is in surplus, recess in sidings or the old helper yards to clear passenger trains and the more time-sensitive cargo, then descend in regeneration during peak times?  "With all those financial engineers looking for something to do, now that credit default swaps are in bad odor, why not structure a deal among the railroads, the legacy electric utilities, and the renewable power producers by which the excess supply payments finance the construction of the catenary with the bonds subsequently repaid out of the railroads' power purchases?" Perhaps yet in my lifetime?

19.8.18

RECOVERING.

The Fox River Trolley Museum could still use your help repairing the damage to several of its cars.

It was a gorgeous, if humid, Saturday, for riding the electric cars.  Pictures below the jump.

DON'T BRING A FISHER-PRICE HAMMER TO THE ERECTING SHOP.

It must have been a lazy summer.  I didn't hear about a deflector shield to fend off asteroids, or a successful carbon-sequestration technology to limit accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, or even about an end to the designated hitter rule.  But I did hear about new frontiers in micro-aggressions.
Two Canadian researchers recently asked almost 1000 cisgender folks if they would date a trans person in a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. This is the first study to ever attempt to quantify the extent of trans discrimination when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships.

958 participants (all but seven cisgender, ranging in age from 18 to 81, with an average age of 26) were asked to indicate which genders they would consider dating. The options included cisgender man, cisgender woman, trans man, trans woman, or genderqueer, and participants could select as many genders as they wanted.
The essay is therefore going to base a lot of its conclusions on a small sample, that's always trouble.

"Dating," however, is the contemporary locution for "establishing relationship material," and in some circles, it might still be "auditioning potential spouses," that is to say, there might be a future mom and dad involved.
Those who would consider dating a trans person didn’t differ in race/ethnicity, but were somewhat older, more likely to hold a university degree, and, unsurprisingly, less likely to be religious than those who would not date a trans person. But some of the most striking differences were in regards to participants’ gender and sexual orientation.

Virtually all heterosexuals excluded trans folks from their dating pool: only 1.8% of straight women and 3.3% of straight men chose a trans person of either binary gender. But most non-heterosexuals weren’t down for dating a trans person either, with only 11.5% of gay men and 29% of lesbians being trans-inclusive in their dating preferences. Bisexual/queer/nonbinary participants (these were all combined into one group) were most open to having a trans partner, but even among them, almost half (48%) did not select either ‘trans man’ or ‘trans woman.’
There's probably some fancy statistical analysis a researcher could engage in to model "dating for the purpose of starting a family" as part of the response rate, albeit with a smallish sample, what the researcher gains in technique he loses in precision.  But precision might not be what the researcher is after.  Rod Dreher notes,
I thought one’s sexual tastes were supposed to be free from the judgment of others. Now Social Justice Warriors are telling us that if you don’t want to have sexual congress with a man posing as a woman, or vice versa, that you are a bigot?

The failure of reality to contort itself to fit the radically disordered desires of a relative handful of people who happen to have allies in high places does nothing to help this radical minority live in peace. I can easily imagine the pain a transgendered person suffers when, after having mutilated his or her body, they discover that most people don’t actually believe they are who they say they are. True, people might say that “sure, you’re a woman now” if you ask, but that doesn’t mean they really believe it. If they did, you wouldn’t be seeing these poll numbers.
Yes, or that there's a material difference between interacting civilly with a person at work, or discussing the relative merits of political claims, or dealing a few hands at cards, and dating.

It takes the author of the original complaint a long time to get around to recognizing that difference, and to conceding the small-sample limitations of the study.
The high rates of trans exclusion from potential dating pools are undoubtedly due in part to cisnormativity, cissexism, and transphobia — all of which lead to lack of knowledge about transgender people and their bodies, discomfort with these unknowns, and fear of being discriminated against by proxy of one’s romantic partner. It is also possible that at least some of the trans exclusion is due to the fact that for some people, sexual orientation might be not (just) about a partner’s gender identity, but attraction to specific body types and/or judgment of reproductive capabilities.

Of course, this is just one study with a non-representative sample (participants were recruited using online advertisements, listserv messages, on-campus announcements, in-print magazine ads, snowballing methods, and invitations sent to previous study participants), so more research is needed to understand the extent of this form of trans exclusion and the reasons driving it.

But despite the limitations, these results clearly indicate that although the visibility of transgender people is on the rise, we still have a long way to go to reach trans equality.
Yes, it's hard to generalize based on a small, self-selected survey (who knows how many people sent in fake responses), and it's even harder to spell out equality among people who are in different circumstances.  Equalizing opportunity in employment or on the party scene is hard enough.  The post isn't quite arguing for a positive right to sex, but it comes close.

Here's the problem: there are organizing principles for human interaction.  Three are salient to analyzing the essay.

First, people act on what they perceive to be their best interests.  Those perceptions structure behavior differently if the interaction is a hand of cards or a conversation about the merits of the infield fly rule, as opposed to an interview for a long-term relationship.

Second, interaction will be more productive where there is mutual benefit.  Those mutual benefits are more likely to be present in conventional males dating females, all the talk about a multiplicity of socially constructed genders notwithstanding.

Third, a discussion of mutual benefit must include understanding of what participants in an exchange stand to lose by not exchanging.  The author of the opinion piece too quickly imposes her priors: the made-up crimes of cisnormativity, cissexism, and transphobia must be present.

Perhaps the current set of social norms might be unduly restrictive, or perhaps in ten or twenty thousand years of human interaction, we've gotten a few things right.

Here, though, I fear the author of the essay has forgotten a maxim that might be instructive: if you think that you alone are sane and the rest of the world has gone nuts, you might want to check your premises.  On the one hand, for mutually beneficial exchange to emerge, people have to think about the interests of others, perhaps ahead of their own interests.  Here, for instance, a crosser might want to reflect that others deserve the same respect for their understanding of their identity that the crosser values, and thus heterosexual dating is simply people acting on that understanding, and respecting that understanding on the part of potential partners.

On the other hand, without innovations, there is stagnation.  For now, it's not clear what non-crossing participants in the dating pool lose by not establishing relationships with crossers.  It's tough for the crossers, yes, but hectoring and invoking invented thought-crimes aren't likely to persuade many people to expand their dating pools.

I'll give The Phantom Soapbox the final words.
To be clear, for the army of outrage seeking dickheads out there, this is not posted for the purpose of mocking Trans people. Those people have enough trouble in their lives without me making fun of them. Leave the Trans people alone, ladies and gentlemen, it is the proper Christian thing to do. Being merciful is never wasted, as somebody besides me should have said a long time ago.
Crossing is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the fractures among the crossers and the G and the B and the L are only going to get worse.

Bad social science surviving peer review, however, is mockworthy.  "I am mocking Dr. Zhana Vrangalova for being a fraud, and I am mocking Cornell University for giving this moron a PhD."

Indeed, and deplorable-shaming and virtue signalling aren't going to flip the party scene.
Knowledge of gay people hasn't changed the percentage of gays in the population in the last 30 years, and it hasn't made straights any more likely to date them. More "education", by which I actually mean browbeating and propaganda, will do nothing positive and will probably make things worse.

People like what they like. Fashions change, but the ground state of dating choices does not. Anybody tells you different, put a hand on your wallet and #walkaway.
Particularly, to repeat, to the extent that dating is a form of interviewing.

As far as Dr Vrangalova, "Implicitly, the non-conformist remains a moral and productive person, seeking to persuade by changing minds rather than to frighten by ending lives."

Deconstruct that.

DON'T CALIFORNICATE NEW ZEALAND.

At the start of this century, I went to New Zealand to watch some America's Cup racing, and also to be in a not-bad place to hang out should the worst Y2K fears materialize.  (They didn't, and the Kiwis kept the Cup: the U.S. challengers didn't even get to the finals.)

At the time, I noticed all the scenic ridges above towns like Christchurch and Queenstown and to an extent Wellington were sprouting trophy houses: the Californication of which I speak.

No more, at least for outlanders.
New Zealand’s parliament has banned non-residents from purchasing most types of homes, aside from new apartments in large developments. (Australians and Singaporeans are exempt because of free-trade deals.)

The bill, passed narrowly yesterday, was reportedly heralded by New Zealand’s Trade and Economic Development Minister David Parker as a “significant milestone.”

Said Parker, “This government believes that New Zealanders should not be outbid by wealthier foreign buyers . . . Whether it’s a beautiful lakeside or ocean-front estate, or a modest suburban house, this law ensures that the market for our homes is set in New Zealand, not on the international market.”
Perhaps some of that buying years ago was based on Y2K being the apocalyptic scenario, rather than whatever the current apocalyptic vision is.

BARB CITY PACKERS.

You have to run to win, but first you have to make the team.

Joel Bouagnon got hurt during a tryout with the Chicago Bears last season, now he has an opportunity in Green Bay.  "The former Northern Illinois star capped off a 14-play, 90-yard Green Bay Packers touchdown drive to start the second half of last Thursday night's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans and took the Lambeau Leap in the stands to soak in the moment."

Right now, all the teams are evaluating potential running backs, and the Packers brought in a few more.
[LeShun] Daniels, a 5-foot-11, 222-pound second-year player, originally signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa on May 5, 2017. After being waived by the Patriots on Sept. 2, 2017, he spent some time on the practice squads of the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Redskins before Washington promoted him to the active roster on Nov. 21, 2017. Daniels played in four games for the Redskins before placed on injured reserve on Dec. 23, 2017 with a hand injury. He was released by Washington on March 30.
Iowa recruited him out of DeKalb High School.

18.8.18

BETTER PAY AND BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS?

The new school year is already under way, and a local television station notices teacher shortages.
Many schools across the county are going back to school with teacher shortages. Some local school districts are searching for certified teachers and some think there are fewer people going into the education field because of the salary.
Ya think?
The Rockford Public Schools District has more than 50 open certified staff positions while the Harlem district has more than 20. Some districts say it used to get more than 100 applicants for one job opening but that just doesn’t happen anymore.
There's probably a research project looking at the effects of "disproportionate suspension" policies on teacher turnover and job openings, particularly in tough districts like Rockford.
Some say it can be tough filling specific teaching positions in business, science and secondary math. The Harlem School District says it's also seeing a shortage in social workers and substitute teachers. Officials say although there is a shortage students do not need to worry about going to class without a teacher. Some believe the teacher's salary could be turning people off to the career path.

“I think that it has to do with pay, you know college kids coming out of college want to make more money and I think money's an issue. We still have candidates out there I just think the pool is getting smaller and hopefully that trend will turn around,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for the Harlem School District Scott Rollinson.
Is the assistant superintendent betting on another recession?  Heckling aside, people with specific business, science, and math skills might have employment opportunities that people without the technical background don't.  Rigid contracts and good intentions aren't going to be enough to staff the classrooms.
Rollinson says the district can't offer incentives to new teachers because of bargaining agreements with the teachers union; however they do up the pay when it comes to hiring substitute teachers.

Some districts say although they are getting less and less candidates they encourage people to get into the education career path because the benefits of helping a child grow makes it all worthwhile.
That presupposes the child wants to grow.

THE SENSE OF URGENCY COMES TOO LATE.

The Milwaukee Brewers' regression to the mean continues, and now, only now, does sports scribe Tom Haudricourt note what has been evident for some time.  "The Brewers will not get to the postseason playing like this."  When the Cardinals got off to a slow start this season, I doubt that any sports scribes in St. Louis excused it as "rebuilding" or "injuries" or "the weather" or any of the other ills to which a baseball team is heir.  Come September, though, it had better be the Cardinals running down the Brewers and the Cubs, and excusing the Pirates and the Reds.
The 5-2 loss to the Cardinals on Friday night at Busch Stadium gave the Brewers a 5-9 record in the month of August. Going back to the all-star break, they are 13-13. Going back even further to July 8, when they were a season-high 18 games over .500 (54-36), the Brewers have gone 14-20.

Simply put, this cannot continue. Not if the Brewers want to end their seven-year playoff drought, even if it's merely the second wild-card berth and winner-take-all game on the road.
Read the column for the analysis, the second-guessing, what have you, if you wish.

That's not what matters.  On Thursday, the Green Bay Packers won the Shrine Charity Game in Green Bay.  Opponent doesn't matter.  Score doesn't matter.  What matters is that sports scribes covering the Packers for the same news organization were fretting about things like signing another outside linebacker and finding reinforcements at reserve left tackle.  (That matters a lot when your offense depends on a right-handed quarterback with a fragile clavicle.)

At the end of last football season, I noted, "Will that shakeup [in the front office and among the coordinators] lead to a more resilient team, continuing to contend and make deep playoff runs, or are we entering another quarter-century of frustration?"

In Packer Nation, any season that doesn't run late into January is a failed season.  The sports punditry get that, and reinforce that.  Their baseball counterparts are still content with "close enough" until it's too late.

TRAVELLING AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.

Our Political Masters seem bound and determined to let Amtrak wither, or be devolved to the states, and there isn't enough money to keep the road network in a state of good repair, and the Essential Air Service apparently isn't essential enough to be fully funded, either.
In the Lower 48, if the per-passenger subsidy exceeds $200, the law says USDOT must put the towns on notice that service could go out to bid again or end entirely. There are reasonable arguments to be made on either side about the merits of EAS; service to towns that are within the catchment areas of larger airports is always particularly vulnerable. But what about the train as an alternative? Only one of the 21 targeted towns (Altoona, PA) currently has Amtrak service. The rest will be left at the gate.

As public policy, it’s shameful that we continue to plan and operate these systems in isolated silos, with select federal favoritism towards funding dominant modes (especially Interstate Highways) in the form of free money to states. The dangerous direction that Amtrak is taking— insisting that states must pony up for any new service on their own—is completely contrary to the federal Constitutional responsibility to regulate interstate commerce, to which nothing is more foundational than transportation.

We must continue to advocate for a more holistic approach focused on local mobility outcomes. If that sometimes justifies subsidizing planes, so be it. But we must stand up to policies that force Americans into any single mode of travel.
Regulate means "to make regular." That neither implies nor is implied by public subsidies. Perhaps the most constitutional thing the federal government might do with respect to transportation is go away.

MAKING ILLINOIS, YES, ILLINOIS, GREAT AGAIN?

The housing crash and the population exodus from Illinois have not been good for DeKalb, or for the local businesses, or the local university.

Just before the crash, the operators of Devonaire Farms were selling three or four variants of the same Executive Box and the thinking in those days, before one of the periodic cycles of high gas price, was that a long commute from Rochelle or DeKalb was manageable as long as the Executive Box was cheap enough.


Cold Spring Shops headquarters got planted here when the housing market got soft enough that a builder was willing to indulge my ideas for a train room concealed under a ranch house.  Flags mark the location of tree seedlings in the summer of 2009.  The pin oak lasted.  I bought some other trees for the other spots.

The years after the crash were not so good for Devonaire, and the vacant houses with decorative plywood ornamental elements didn't handle the sun and the temperature variations too well.  But somebody was willing to buy up the distressed properties, and perhaps that investment will pay off.  "The housing starts in DeKalb are the big development for homebuilding in the county, while communities such as Sycamore and Genoa have continued to see homebuilding in line with current – and gradual – trends." For some reason, there has been a lot of construction in Hampshire, which is just across the county line (and in the Metra commuter rail tax district, if not currently on a commuter train line?)

There's enough in the practitioners' discussion of possible reasons for the building in DeKalb to keep all sorts of researchers and pundits and policy advocates busy.
Ten years later, it seems local developer John Pappas is convinced the tide is turning. He and Park Ridge businessman Peter Iatredes walked away as dozens of undeveloped lots in foreclosure they owned in the Bridges of Rivermist subdivision went to auction in December 2014.

“There’s zero growth in DeKalb,” Pappas said at the time, “and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Pappas said he sold the 20 lots in Devonaire Farms to D.R. Horton at cost – about $13,000 a lot.

“This is only the beginning for the growth,” said Pappas, who’s lived in DeKalb 47 years. “There are a lot more things to come.”

Quite the 180-degree turn. So, what gives?

“I’m a very positive person in general, and I think [Northern Illinois University] is going to turn around soon,” he said. “We’ve got great new management, and this is a great college town. This is a great time to invest in DeKalb.”

A decision made in July 2017 by the DeKalb City Council to eliminate impact fees for new building permits in several of the city’s subdivisions helped, as well.

Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton said getting all three entities – the city, DeKalb School District 428 and the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District – to commit to waiving the fees was a long time in the making.
The point of those fees is to finance at least the initial tranche of water and sewer mains and streets and lighting and such, and waiving those fees lays those burdens off on all taxpayers, and the anticipation of future in-migration or a return of twenty-five-thousand students to Northern Illinois University might be suburban growth Ponzi scheme thinking.

It's been a good ten years, though, for the trees people planted.


The view as of 24 June, 2018.  The maple tree is about the same spot as the left-most red flag in the upper picture.  The sunburst locust is in the spot marked by the red flag in the center of the picture, and it has recovered pretty well from last summer's windstorm.  Yes, there's still a vacant lot to the north of the beige house at right, which now sports a deck.

16.8.18

MORE MONUMENTS DESTROYED.

Apparently, the Boy Scouts are soon to be Scouting, U.S.A., and the geniuses in charge of Amtrak want to divide the Southwest Chief east of Albuquerque and west of La Junta or perhaps Dodge City, with a bus bridge for anyone wanting to go cross-country.

For the time being, as Trains stringer S. Sweeney notes, there is still rail access to Philmont.
Anyone who has spent enough time in Scouting in the U.S. hears about certain "must-do" events before you age out of the program. A national jamboree is one (that I also didn't do) and visiting Philmont is another. In short, Philmont is ten of thousands of acres of open land and campsites near Cimarron, N.M., dedicated to being a safe place were youth and their adult leaders can enjoy nature and challenge their own physical and mental endurance.

One highlight that was advertised years ago was the week-long backpack trek to and from the summit of Mt. Baldy — no refrigerators, no electronics — just you and your troop of fellow scouts.

There's another part of that, of course, the train ride to get to Philmont. Scouts in California and the Pacific Northwest probably don't do this, but for the easterners, the cheapest, most dependable way to move 20 to 40 boys at a time was to get coach seats on Amtrak and go west. I knew a few of the guys who went the last year I was eligible to participate as a youth. What they must have experienced on the train getting to know one another — and strangers — better, boggles the mind.
If I recall correctly, Philmont eligibility required the rank of First Class Scout, or perhaps Star Scout. But yes, that roughing it in the wilderness used to be a thing about Scouting, and young people with knowledge about how to do so might be better served in the event of a failure of the grid, from means foul or accidental.

This year, the Philmont season was cut short account forest fires, but those Scouters who got there by train understand its value.
“This is the easiest, safest, and most cost-effective way to get to Philmont,” says [troop committee chairman Dusty] Sterling, whose Canton-bound crew detrains at Alliance, Ohio. He notes that airline flight costs to Colorado Springs, Denver, and Albuquerque airports have been increasing and all involve long ground connections compared to Amtrak at Raton.
The Scouts weren't able to go on walkabout in Philmont, but a secular campground was willing to take their money. But what's up with "troop committee chairman?" "Scoutmaster" the latest addition to the Banned Words List?

THEY LEFT "IN WISCONSIN" OFF THE STAR.

When I go to a state or county fair, it is to look at the animals and to partake of too much finger food.  The political parties, of course, have their displays, and in Illinois, with the fairgrounds in Springfield, just about all the constitutional officers of the state have a presence.

Thus, I limited myself to taking a picture of the Democrats' stand.


I've documented the expansion of Wisconsin's middle class at Illinois's expense previously.  You can't pen taxpayers in and shear them, the way you can shear sheep.


The fairgrounds contain an impressive complex of livestock barns, although these were mostly empty.  There's less in the way of raising livestock on a retail scale in farming these days, and a goodly number of Illinois farms are crops only, frequently hired out for artificial fuels.

The political economy of Illinois is interesting, though.  Here is a member of the Waterloo, Illinois (it's St. Louis-side of Springfield) German Band on the Alphorn.


That "Buy American" flag flutters high in the wind above the Labor Hall maintained by the AFL-CIO.  These days, it's a notionally Republican president pushing that message.  Go figure.

14.8.18

BUILD IT BY INCREMENTS.

The Cold Spring Shops formula for introducing faster Passenger Rail service does not begin with hero projects and 300 km/h fifth-generation Electroliners.  "First get the trains running, then give them free rein to 110 or 124, then tweak the schedules for connectivity, then work on interline ticketing."  Ohio strikes me as a logical place to begin, introducing a semblance of the old Pennsylvania Railroad service between Columbus and Chicago and the old New York Central between Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Perhaps, in Ohio, if they think in terms of Inter City 125 diesel trains or their contemporary Siemens Brightline counterparts,  rather than electric bullet trains or hyperloops, they'll get somewhere.
Most successful high-speed rail systems around the world are built using the Phased Network Approach, integrating new high-speed tracks with the existing rail network, according to [the Midwest High Speed Rail Association]. High-speed rail is a system that serves many destinations, both large and small, by adding new segments of high-speed track to existing railroad network in Midwestern states.
Much of the trackage across Ohio was good for 100 mph running back in the steam era, perhaps restoring a state of good repair there is your first step.  Dependable connections at Columbus or Cleveland or Toledo are your second step.
[Midwest spokesman Rick] Harnish said the region can look to new projects in Europe as an example of effective travel systems, including Germany’s Deutsche Bahn.

“The key to their system is that they have a comprehensive, country-wide network that runs on either hourly or twice-hourly service,” he said. “All of the trains show up in the station at the same time, and so you can easily get from anywhere in the country to anywhere else… it’s all very interconnected, the system works in a very cohesive way. Sometimes the trains are only going 80 miles per hour, sometimes they’re on 150-mile-per-hour tracks, and sometimes they’re on 200-mile-per-hour tracks. But because they’ve got a very reliable hourly service… it makes the service very convenient,” he said.
Yes, and the Germans didn't start their Neubaustrecke as disconnected projects between High Desert and Nearly Nowhere, the way California has been doing it.  I wonder if the first revenue train to turn a wheel on the California high-speed tracks will be a San Joaquin given free rein to 125.

DIALING BACK THE CONDESCENSION WILL HELP.

In presidential elections, the Democrats' electoral strategy relies heavily on emerging ethnic majorities plus just enough blue-collar voters.  That didn't work too well two years ago, between Hillary Clinton being a lousy candidate and enough disaffected blue-collar and suburban more conventional ethnics participating in a Great Revolt.

Democrat strategists would like to win back some of those voters: that Our President is alienating conventional ethnics by flouting bourgeois convention helps, but they're still engaging in soul-searching.  Perhaps not enough soul-searching, notes Mahablog.
Part of the problem with Democrats is that they believe they campaign on issues when they really don’t.  This was my gripe with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She did not campaign on issues. Clinton supporters disagree with that and complain up and down that she did too; she had a whole website full of policy proposals. Yeah, and the only way to find out about them was to go to her website. By watching her television ads and seeing her on the teevee news, you wouldn’t have had a clue what she was running on other than her resume.
No, she thought she was running on issues. "Civil rights are womens' rights are Elgeebeetee rights are human rights" at full screech, just before the "Thank You!" But I digress.

The Mahablog  post riffs off Andrew Levinson suggesting that "The debate over moderate versus progressive policies is irrelevant unless Democratic candidates can first establish a basic level of trust with these voters."  It's not so much about Hillary's condescension or Bernie Sanders's economic cluelessness.  " Donald Trump, vile and dishonest as he may be, very successfully tapped into a deep mental and emotional perspective in white working-class life—a distinct kind of modern class consciousness, class resentment, and class antagonism that is almost entirely unacknowledged in current discussions regarding how to reach these voters, but which plays a critical role in their political thinking." The antagonism Mr Levinson identifies concentrates on three types of (primarily coastal) people: the political class, Wall Street financial managers, and the Academic - Entertainment - Media agenda-setting class.  Successful Democrats, outside the coasts, might do well to lose the hipster poses.  "Many went hunting on fall weekends, listened to country music in their car, and were able to talk with firsthand knowledge and personal experience about the day-to-day problems of the white working-class people in the neighborhoods and communities they represented. In their personal lives they refuted the accusation that they were educated elitists with no connection to or understanding of ordinary peoples’ lives."

I suspect he's on to something.  Too much of the political or financial or cultural aesthetic comes bundled with hybrid cars and bike lanes and five dollar cups of coffee and eight dollar artisanal stale pale ale, better understood as headache in a glass.  And Normals get it.

New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Tim Morris has not yet read The Washington Monthly, and he sees it.
Democrats were once known as the party of rural families, union members and the white working class. It is now associated with the coastal elites, nouveau socialists, the "resistance" and all manner of identity politics.

The point is that Democrats have turned their backs on the voters who once lifted them to consistent congressional majorities and occasionally into the White House. They may win in dozens of districts scattered across the country in the fall, it may even be a "blue wave" election. But they still haven't come to terms with the fact that thousands of their former supporters believe that a wealthy, former reality TV star, casino mogul and New York real estate developer understands America's working class better than Democrats.
It might not do much good to turn out a lot of those emerging ethnic votes in the big cities.

David French elaborates.
[C]onservative white Americans look at urban multicultural liberalism and notice an important fact: Its white elite remains, and continues to enjoy staggering amounts of power and privilege. So when that same white elite applauds the decline of “white America,” what conservatives often hear isn’t a cheer for racial justice but another salvo in our ongoing cultural grudge match, with the victors seeking to elevate black and brown voices while remaining on top themselves.
John Hinderaker brings the smack, curating a few illustrations of incela corridor arrogance.
You could assemble stories like these pretty much any day of the week. But when I read them together, I thought they were a stark example of how malignant America’s self-appointed “elites” are, even though, as we never tire of pointing out, they are anything but elite. In fact, they are below average. Which is why most Americans rightly don’t think much of them.
It doesn't help when a recent New Yorker cover doubles down on the condescension.


R. Kikuo Johnson cover sketch retrieved from The New Yorker.

The final version is more of the same.  But it's important, because The Narrative.
The timing seemed right for a new spin on a classic illustrator’s theme, the family summer getaway. A few summers ago, I passed through a small town in Montana to buy some emergency bear spray for a week of backpacking in grizzly country. Soon after, that same town made headlines as a hotbed of white nationalism. Instantly, the grizzlies seemed like the lesser threat. For the record, I support a hunter’s right to humanely harvest wild food as much as I support a father’s right to wear dorky hats with sandals.
The timing seemed right for a new spin on a classic intellectual weenie fear, the backwoods outdoorsman.  Short version, intellectual weenie's car breaks down in the woods and a guy wearing an "NRA Freedom" gimme cap fixes it and she decides to throw a gratuitous dig at him in the course of a book review.

That's what gives Kurt Schlichter's summer columns, many of which appear to be an opportunity to peddle an upcoming book, their punch.
Of course, the elite does not want an honest and open conversation about the basic premises it operates under, whether in terms of foreign or domestic policy. It understands that its policies are indefensible. They are indefensible because they are manifestly designed not for the benefit of Normal Americans – whose interests every US government policy should seek to serve first – but for the benefit of that same elite.
That New Yorker cover will do nothing to convince the Colonel to dial it back.

HAVE A COKE AND A TAX.

More summer-time catching up on reading, this time a Veronique de Rugy Reason column from the end of 2009.  The key insight ought to be evident to anyone who understands optimal taxation.  "If the tax is effective at discouraging soda consumption, it won’t raise much money because people won’t be buying soda." That's a little too adult a concept for assorted nudges and nannies, despite there being pretty good economics departments in or near Seattle or Chicago or Berkeley.

With the new academic year approaching, the political economy of corrective taxation is relevant.

13.8.18

HIDDEN DEVOLUTION?

Craig Sanders expresses reservations about Amtrak's revised timetabling providing additional regional connections in Chicago.  It's a good news, bad news sort of thing.
Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.
A long time ago, there were through trains between Milwaukee and St. Louis (explicitly) and after that, implicitly there were through trains between Milwaukee and Detroit. The problem that arose was the mid-day westbound train from Michigan was supposed to continue as the 4.30 commuter-heavy departure for Milwaukee, and delays on Penn Central or Conrail meant a lot of disgruntled commuters. Thus began the era of two train sets ping-ponging between Chicago and Milwaukee.
To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.
The brand is becoming a questionable one, but the institutional structure for collecting public moneys is already in place.  Moreover, you have to be living right to connect off the Lake Shore or Capitol to 333, new timings or not.  But if your train's on time, you can hit one of the bakeries upstairs at Union Station to get some food, what with the etiolated food service on the eastern trains and the snack cart withdrawn from the Hiawatha Service.

Perhaps, though, Amtrak management are trying an updated version of the Brosnan Trap.
For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?
The original Brosnan Trap was a discovery by the Southern Railway's legal department that a train crossing a state line could be discontinued at a state border if its only stop across the state line is its initial and terminal station.  Thus, for instance, Southern trains making only one Florida stop, at Jacksonville (to interchange cars onward to Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard, or Florida East Coast) could be cut back to Swampy (well, Council), Georgia without the rigamarole of a hearing before the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Those Detroit or Cincinnati snowbirds who wanted to ride to Sarasota or West Palm?  Sorry.  It's then relatively easy to show that the Atlanta to Council stub loses lots of money, and that might be a decision for the state's railroad commission alone.

The variant these days is that under the current Amtrak funding procedures, the state departments of transportation are on the hook for any run shorter than 750 miles, Chicago to Pittsburgh is something like 480 miles and Chicago to Buffalo about 540 miles: the good news is that Dodge City is 782 rail miles on the Atchison Topeka and-a Santa Fe.

The past record of state departments of transportation in supporting the regional rail services is not encouraging.  Moreover, if the states that are paying for service put the "Amtrak Midwest" up for bid, and Brightline or one of those other aspirants to build from Orlando to Tampa win it, something tells me that the airline gang running Amtrak might be happy to be rid of it.

BETTER TO BE LUCKY THAN TO BE GOOD?

The Milwaukee Brewers' summer torpor continues, with seven runs, nineteen hits, and thirteen runners left on base Sunday.
Particularly brutal was the Brewers' seventh, when they had second-and-third with no outs, and the bases loaded with one out, and didn't score. The previously red-hot Christian Yelich, who did not have a good series, struck out against lefty Jonny Venters, and after an intentional walk to Jesus Aguilar, Ryan Braun grounded into an inning-ending double play.
That's right, the Team Formerly Known as the Milwaukee Braves walked a current All-Star to pitch to a past Most Valuable Player, and it paid off.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were being no-hit by the Washington Nationals into the seventh inning on Friday, picked up one run on a bases-loaded walk, and somehow managed to win, and on Sunday, the Cubs were being shut out into the last of the ninth by the Nationals and picked up an improbable win.

Don't look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals have edged past the Pirates and into the wild-card picture.  What's it going to be, Old Style, Budweiser, or Miller?

12.8.18

SERIOUS RAILWAY PRESERVATION.

Trains editor Jim Wrinn reflects on a recent visit to the Illinois Railway Museum, which is by Chicago driving standards almost in Cold Spring Shops' back yard.  "Illinois Railway Museum is revered for its massive rolling stock collection and its capability of providing a triple threat: It’s one of the few places in the U.S. that can field at once steam, diesel, and electric trains."

His column focuses on the museum's steam efforts: a century old Russian Decapod serving as "Uncle Boris" on Thomas the Tank Engine weekends; a three-truck Shay Patent Locomotive due to return to service, for years its star turn was hauling the caboose train; and a Union Pacific medium Consolidation expected to be next in steam service.

This past weekend, though, the big stage belonged to the diesels.


The Milwaukee Road's 760 is the first Fairbanks-Morse diesel switcher; it runs.  The bankrupt blue Rock Island Geep is fresh out of the repair shop and the paint shop, and fresh off assisting Thomas during July's events.  The Southern Pacific and Wisconsin Central road power are also operable, and handed Saturday's caboose train.

That's the rear of Silver Pilot hiding behind the Southern Pacific diesel.  What's the point of doing railway preservation if you can't re-enact a "what if?"


Burlington sold both Nebraska Zephyr sets a few years before Santa Fe (and The Milwaukee Road and Great Northern) bought cowl units for passenger trains, thus this is Just For Fun.

Meanwhile, the heavyweight coach train was seriously over-powered.


There are additional pictures at Hicks Car Works.  Later in the day, these diesels came off, turned on the wye, and added Silver Pilot for a three locomotive formation.  The Wisconsin and Southern unit was in the museum's collection as a Union Pacific unit, sold to Wisconsin and Southern for their excursion train, later returned to the museum.

Also running: a short Chicago and North Western Commuter Streamliner.  When I first hired out at Northern Illinois, a two- or three-car Saturday or Sunday train was common.  They don't shorten formations at the outer coach yards any more; on the other hand the expensive parking and clogged roads put a lot of weekend passengers onto the trains.


There's always room for another illustration of the Nebraska Zephyr,  demonstrating what a de luxe higher-speed diesel train looked like long before Florida East Coast's Brightline got into the act.


Unfortunately, current attitudes at Amtrak probably preclude a return of Silver Pilot and the Zephyr to mainline metals any time soon.

Amid all the work going on, recently restored Milwaukee Electric refrigerated container trailer M-37, just the thing when you had to rush a shipment of bratwurst from Usingers to Waukesha Beach, is spotted outside in full daylight with nothing on the intervening lead tracks.


The Steam Department also spotted the three-truck Shay in a good place for photography.


Watch the museum web site and social media postings for announcements of this kettle's return to active duty.

SUMMER RELIEF.

Addison Del Mastro.  "Call it the 'ice cream truck test': you shouldn’t worry about the death of Western civilization so long as the average suburban American neighborhood still has ice cream trucks. And maybe you should get ice cream too."  Yes, if there isn't a custard stand nearby.  Custard doesn't take as well to freezing or to travelling.  Dreamsicles and drumsticks are another matter.

Apparently the music boxes on the ice cream trucks are distinctive.
More than the mediocre ice cream, it’s probably the music that helped imprint these trucks in the broad American culture. My dad once said that one thing you’ll never forget in old age is the handful of top radio hits when you were a teenager. The same is true of ice cream truck tunes, along with childhood advertising jingles. If you want to take a deep dive or find a tune from your own childhood, there’s even a YouTube playlist of 43 ice cream truck jingles.



I'm not going to comment on the "mediocre" ice cream, the offerings around here tending to run to the frozen products, such as the bomb pops and Dreamsicles.

One of the vendors in the neighborhood does the music differently, with a collection of Christmas tunes, both sacred and secular.  Well, when the truck hits Knolls Street, it is "joy to the world" for children of all ages.