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Inaugural Train Trip? Are we missing something here?

By       Message Gene Messick     Permalink

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National media sources are more than amply covering the historic Obama/Biden arrival in DC by train for the Inauguration, such as in this  t r u t h o u t  repost of a Chicago Tribune article:
 
Barack Obama Channels Lincoln, Down to the Pre-Inaugural Train Trip
http://www.truthout.org/011709D
 
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Mike Dorning, The Chicago Tribune: "As Barack Obama prepared for his arrival in Washington, he embraced the same historical imagery that he used to kick off his presidential campaign: the spirit of Abraham Lincoln."
 
Being a rail buff, traveling by Amtrak many times in past decades, I'm pleased this is happening. But Obama is riding on another great idea. Is the media metaphor of Lincoln keeping us from see it? Are we missing a greater message here?
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Obama is looking for New Deal type public works projects. I've written about how FDR used construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park as a CCC / WPA Project, and took years to build, leaving us with the most visited National Park of all 380 others. Back on January 1st, I revived this Proposal to complete a major historical purpose that the Blue Ridge Parkway was created to serve:  Proposal: A great deal on a New Deal  To complete the 469-mile long Parkway required not only building the roadway over mountain terrain, but also building 168 bridges and blasting 26 tunnels to keep from cutting gashes through ridges. Such as these, and the more recently completed Linn Cove Viaduct around Grandfather Mountain, are part of the endearing charm of the Parkway.

Such massive transportation-based projects make a lot of sense if Obama's folks are looking for public works projects. Obama and Biden are riding on another indication of our future of Change: A Cross Country High Speed Passenger Rail System.

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Other Nations have them. I rode one in Spain a few years ago. It was the smoothest train ride I've ever been on, very fast, connecting Madrid to other cities. As we sped across open countryside, the group I was with commented, "Why don't we have this in America?" Certainly we have vast distances to travel, and trains provide inner-city to inner-city connections.

I also rode Amtrak again last Summer, choosing trains to transport me to the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. I boarded the Cardinal in Charlottesville, as I've done in year's past. This trip became the worst train ride I ever took. Awakened during the night, I noticed we were stopped somewhere in rural West Virginia. A severe windstorm I'd heard about on my van radio had struck, bringing down a large tree across the tracks, which in turn brought down major power lines. Because it was so difficult to get repair crews there, from the storm at night and the rugged remote location, we sat for hours and hours.

When we were able to continue, our train was out of sequence, having to wait on sidetracks while many freight trains with higher priority passes us by. By the time the Cardinal arrived in Chicago nine (9) hours late, my connection to catch the Empire Builder on to Minneapolis was a long gone possibility. But the Empire Builder only runs every-other day. So my months before carefully worked out schedule, including prepaid housing in a dorm at U of Min, and prepaid early-bird Conference fee, was shot. I didn't have money for bus fare, and waiting for the next Empire Builder would get me there for only the last day of a three-day conference. 

With deep regret, I began asking how to best get back home. The Cardinal, also on an every-other day schedule, had already left Chicago. Basically, I had passed the train I needed somewhere along the way. Amtrak put me on another route, free of charge, going through Pittsburg to Washington, connecting to another train back to Charlottesville. As this horror show continued to unfold, that train was delayed 5 hours arriving in DC, again missing my connection. Amtrak put me up in a fancy Hotel overnight, gave me money to buy meals. Since I was on a senior discount ticket, they lost money on my trip.

One additional complication: I'd been on my feet teaching glass classes for several days in Georgia the week before, and my hip pain had come back with a vengeance. Sitting on trains for so long only made it worse. The hotel bed in DC was a blessing. On their TV that night, I saw that Hillary was going to make a major announcement the next morning, a few blocks away in DC. I suspected it would be her concession speech, and was right. But because of leg pain, I couldn't walk there, nor stand as I would have had to do. So I also missed that serendipitously available event.

By the time I got to Charlottesville, I'd been on, or waiting to get on, trains for 72 hours. With sadness I climbed back into my dust covered van, realizing that I had probably just taken my last train trip ever.
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UNLESS . . . fate brings another alternative. Obama's historic train trip from Philadelphia -- picking up Biden in Delaware (Biden rides the train all the time from home to his Senate job) -- could be the harbinger for a bright, new future for train travel in America.

While I clickity-clacked over rails at speeds I could beat by driving, High Speed Rail Trains can travel easily at double that rate, even faster. High Speed Train can beat Planes time-wise for short/medium trips, if you add in the time expended getting from Airports (and through security) into cities at both ends of trips. High Speed Trains can also be less expensive, and more environmentally friendly per passenger mile than air travel. They're silent, smooth, safe and fast.

Time to wake up, America. Time for Change. Opportunity is knocking -- born out of adversity as was the Blue Ridge Parkway during the Great Depression -- to bring us a bright, shiny future for transcontinental transportation, if we will but answer the call. 

 

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For 17 years Gene Messick studied and taught Design at NC State University and Cornell. Co-founding the Visual Design Program at NCSU, he established the Photography Program at Cornell, where he taught in the Architecture Department, most interested (more...)
 

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