Archive for April, 2011

Requiescat in Pace

April 13, 2011

I have just received an email reporting the death of P.E. Gamber, my Uncle Paul. Some of my memories of railroading with him appear earlier on this blog. Look here, here, here, here, and here. While his death was not unexpected, he was a nonagenarian, I find myself nearly wordless to explain his importance in my life. It’s all wrapped up with the powerful metaphor that the Pennsylvania Railroad was for me as I was growing up. To me, Uncle Paul’s profession was a high calling. He was “playing” with real trains, unlike me playing with the models in my basement. He gave me a way to absorb knowledge about the railroad and experience its operations.

Here’s a quick montage of memories. Seeing the teletype in the crew room reporting the track arrival number of approaching trains. Learning the purpose of the protection sleeper for westbound trains parked on a short siding at the east end of the station in Harrisburg. Standing in the the vestibule of a Norfolk and Western sleeper as he took train orders hooped up by the operator at Lemo tower (the former J tower). Riding in the cab of EP22 5707 in the early hours of a winter morning between Hagerstown and Chambersburg on Train 638. Pulling the cord in the vestibule of “The Juniata” at Harrisburg, eastbound to Philadelphia, to signal the motorman on the GG1 to start our train. Getting a tour of a Chesapeake and Ohio sleeper with it’s roomettes placed over the trucks and the bedrooms in the middle of the car. Riding in the tail of “Mountain View” on the eastbound Broadway Limited while it was still an all-Pullman train. The view of the PRR’s real estate, track structures, stations, electrical plants, flying junctions, towers and interlockings was truly breathtaking. So much of that world is gone. And now so is an uncle who wrote indelible experiences of that history into my life. Thank you dear Uncle.

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High Speed Rail — NO!

April 11, 2011

Another note on the dangerous infatuation with high speed rail. This is by way of the Wall Street Journal quoting one of our nation’s great political thinkers writing in Newsweek, February 27th of this year, George Will.

Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind. . . .

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

I hope my fellow rail fans aren’t seduced by the conceits of the so-called progressives. For much less money…much less…the government could support infrastructure improvements to create more passing sidings, restore double tracks where capacity was lifted long ago, and provide new equipment. Passenger trains commonly travelled at 80 even 90 miles per hour across the American landscape. We can provide alternatives to crowded airports and congested interstates and make passenger service viable again. We could have economic coach fares to encourage Americans to travel and, on the same trains, luxurious accommodations to attract business and leisure travelers. I wouldn’t mind paying for the opportunity to sit in an observation car sipping an icy martini while watching America whirl by. That’s something no one can do in America today. Not for any amount of money.