19.5.08

TODAY'S RAILROAD READING. This week's Destination:Freedom has a great deal of substance. I commend in particular this interview with fellow O Scale King John Stilgoe and this squib about Norfolk Southern working with the Fitchburg Railroad. At one time, railroad policy makers envisioned Norfolk and Western absorbing Erie Lackawanna, Delaware and Hudson, and Boston and Maine as a way of introducing a second carrier into Penn Central country. That combination failed thanks to Boston and Maine reluctance as well as Hurricane Agnes erasing much of Erie Lackawanna and some of Delaware and Hudson. Now Norfolk Southern will get the old Troy and Greenfield through the Hoosac Tunnel and much of what remains of the Conn River. The conversation between John and Living on Earth's Bruce Gellerman is instructive.I'm very serious about where this country is going.
My book "Train Time" deals with the problems of trucks moving from Mexico to Canada, not stopping in the United States except to fuel, clogging up interstate highways in the Midwest and high plains that never used to see this traffic, and essentially making people wonder, ordinary tax payers wonder, why this cargo isn't on the Kansas City Southern, when you can run a freight train at 90 miles an hour, as happens frequently west of the Mississippi, it feels kind of sad to be sitting in a vehicle on a publicly-built highway where the speed limit's 65 or 70. And once people see freight trains moving at 70 or 75 miles an hour, they start wondering why there can't be a passenger train.
I haven't communicated with John for some time, and when we do converse, it's usually about things O Scale. All the same, we're thinking along similar lines.
West of St. Louis a lot of the nation's freight railroads are now adding a third track, because there's so many freight trains moving that they have to get the faster trains around the slower ones. Once we get the freight railroads back to the condition they were about 1950, I think Amtrak will have a golden opportunity to prove itself.
That might be asking for a complete change of attitude at Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern, and for better supervision and dispatching on the Chessie. On the other hand, in 1950 there were still a few 75 minute Hiawathas dispatched behind an A or F7 deputizing for a pair of E7s. To quote from a Broadway musical of about 30 years ago, one could also reach New York in sixteen hours, a lot can happen in sixteen hours.
My students figured out there was overnight mail service, first class mail, between New York and Chicago, for the price of a first class stamp. Nowadays you'd have to pay a lot of money to get something overnighted. But the real key is that meant there was very frequent fast mail service between places like New York City and Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Cleveland. We've forgotten all of this.
And Emergency Fast Package Service.
You could order a refrigerator, for example in the evening, and it would be delivered to your house at noontime the next day. You could do that in 1929. You can't do it today.
I wonder if some of those real estate inquiries the book (which I must add to the stack of things to review) refers to are looking at the interurban rights of way.

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