Waiting on a Train; The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, by James McCommons was selected as one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2009, and is a finalist for Foreword’s Book of the Year award.
McCommons spent a year and traveled 26,000 miles on Amtrak, our country’s struggling passenger rail provider, while researching and writing his book. Recently he gave a talk about the future of passenger rail, the bright spots as well as the challenges ahead, at Western Illinois University.
Amtrak was tumbled together as a compromise in 1971. Freight rail companies had previously been required to move people in addition to coal, oil, and other commodities–but there’s just no way to get as much money for a box of comfortably seated humans as for a packed shipping container full of corn or whiskey. As McCommons puts it, Amtrak was developed as a private company to take the burden of passenger service off the shoulders of the then-struggling freight companies–without actually nationalizing that service. Part of the idea was to design a failing company, and wean the public off passenger rail over time. It simply wasn’t valued anymore.
Nowadays Amtrak’s problems abound, but in the future, as McCommons emphasized at his recent talk, the energy efficiency of rail, combined with increased populations and stricter environmental regulation will make improving passenger rail infrastructure more affordable than investing in highways and air travel.
With new funding for high-speed rail promised by the Obama Administration, McCommons and other proponents of rail travel are hopeful that things will change for the better.
Read the full article by Elaine Hopkins over at PeoriaStory.