Chelsea Green Publishing

Waiting on a Train

Pages:304 pages
Book Art:Black and white maps
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603580649
Pub. Date November 06, 2009

Waiting on a Train

The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service

By James McCommons
Foreword by James Kunstler

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
November 06, 2009


During the tumultuous year of 2008--when gas prices reached $4 a gallon, Amtrak set ridership records, and a commuter train collided with a freight train in California--journalist James McCommons spent a year on America's trains, talking to the people who ride and work the rails throughout much of the Amtrak system. Organized around these rail journeys, Waiting on a Train is equal parts travel narrative, personal memoir, and investigative journalism.

Readers meet the historians, railroad executives, transportation officials, politicians, government regulators, railroad lobbyists, and passenger-rail advocates who are rallying around a simple question: Why has the greatest railroad nation in the world turned its back on the very form of transportation that made modern life and mobility possible?

Distrust of railroads in the nineteenth century, overregulation in the twentieth, and heavy government subsidies for airports and roads have left the country with a skeletal intercity passenger-rail system. Amtrak has endured for decades, and yet failed to prosper owing to a lack of political and financial support and an uneasy relationship with the big, remaining railroads.

While riding the rails, McCommons explores how the country may move passenger rail forward in America--and what role government should play in creating and funding mass-transportation systems. Against the backdrop of the nation's stimulus program, he explores what it will take to build high-speed trains and transportation networks, and when the promise of rail will be realized in America.


"America once had a passenger railroad system that was the envy of the world. Now we have one that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. The task of reviving it could not be more important if we wish to keep people moving around this continent-sized nation, especially as the airlines crap out and our system of mass Happy Motoring founders on the shoals of 'peak oil.' The infrastructure of our rail system is lying out in the rain waiting to be fixed; the project would put scores of thousands of people to work at meaningful jobs at all levels; and the fact that we're not even talking about it shows how un-serious we are as a society. This book is one small step toward the giant leap of consciousness necessary to repair our battered country."--James Howard Kunstler, author of World Made By Hand and The Long Emergency

"Like William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways before it, James McCommons' Waiting on a Train is a celebration of America's past and a hopeful prescription for its future. It is one of those rare books that will change the way you see the world, a fascinating and engaging tale of how this nation's infatuation with the automobile all but destroyed a once glorious passenger rail system. If you are not already a rail lover, you will be by the time you finish this book. You will want to pack your bags and hop aboard. Waiting on a Train is an important story thoroughly reported and well told."--John Grogan, author of Marley & Me and The Longest Trip Home

"James McCommons has captured the adventure, the angst, and the inadequacy of modern train travel. He also gives us perspective, taking us from the days when trains were the pulse of America to today when they could be so much but are on life support."--Don Phillips, columnist for Trains magazine and former transportation writer for The Washington Post and International Herald Tribune

"Waiting on a Train is a timely and worthwhile addition to the canon of transportation literature. It manages to be both a lively account of rail travels across America--with insightful portraits of the train enthusiasts and just plain folks met along the way--and a deeply informative history of Amtrak in its short but troubled existence. More than that, it points the way toward a more dynamic future for passenger railroads, complete with heavily used high-speed trains zipping around regional corridors."--Jim Motavalli, author of Breaking Gridlock: Moving Toward Transportation That Works and Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future

"This is must reading for anybody who cares about the transportation future of this country. It should be a call to arms for all Americans who keep wondering why our friends in Europe and Asia have terrific trains while we have poured billions into highways and airports and a pittance into our national passenger rail system."--Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts and vice-chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, 1998-2003

Library Journal, Editors' Pick-
Attention! Readers of travel memoir, of investigative reporting, those seeking to understand America today, even devotees of fiction of the American journey--heck, simply of fine writing! Look out for James McCommons's Waiting on a Train. NOTICE!: Train chasers, railroaders, and train hobbyists, you'll want to chase down this book as well. DESCRIPTION: Height nine inches, approximately 272 pages deep. Instigated by veteran journalist McCommons, who was last seen riding the rails in 2008 on extended trips covering all regions of the country that still permit the possibility of passenger rail travel. As he rides the California Zephyr, the Silver Meteor, the Acela, the Empire Builder, he interweaves stories of the men and women he encounters with an accessible and expertly traced history of America's enchantment and subsequent tragically wrongheaded abandonment of its railroads. In a year when gas prices tipped the $4 mark, the speed and efficiency of freight trains carrying shipping containers became all the more clear. McCommons urges us not to fall back on train nostalgia but to look to the future. He sees the possibility that with increased stimulus support of America's railroad lines, age-old disconnects between freight and passenger rail may at last ease, and we may cease to be "a third-world country when it comes to passenger railroads." McCommons is the son and grandson of railroad men. He does them proud. Detain his work. Can be found as of November 2009. Reward: The pleasure of reading prose that has the shimmer, strength, and authenticity that our railroads can still inspire and that they may yet attain again.

Library Journal-
McCommons sets out to rectify American ignorance of passenger trains by describing his rail travels around the United States in 2008. He writes of the people he meets, the scenery, the long decline in American rail travel, and its emerging renaissance, interweaving discussions he has had with dozens of the leading minds on American passenger rail. McCommons explains that Amtrak has been starved for funding since its 1971 inception but argues that a brighter future is coming with increased funding from the Obama administration, states working on regional plans, a new spirit of cooperation from the freight railroads, and the 2008 four-dollars-a-gallon gasoline price, which refocused the public's attention on rail travel. Still, he's objective, and though repetitious, his narratives get the mood of train travel right. He's at his best when deftly connecting the lack of a salad in a dining car with bigger issues like Amtrak's funding. VERDICT: Essential reading for rail fans, policymakers, and anyone curious about the future of transportation.


  • Winner - ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Silver) - 2009


James McCommons

James McCommons has been a journalist for more than twenty five years and published hundreds of articles in magazines and major newspapers. A former senior editor at Organic Gardening magazine, he specializes in ecology and travel writing. He grew up in a railroad family and has spent thirty five years riding trains in America. He currently teaches journalism and nature writing at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.


Passenger Rail in the US...past, present, and future

Waiting on a Train-Book Trailer

Waiting on a Train-Book Trailer


The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor

The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor

By Les Leopold

A CIA-connected labor union, an assassination attempt, a mysterious car crash, listening devices, and stolen documents--everything you'd expect from the latest thriller. Yet, this was the reality of Tony Mazzocchi, the Rachel Carson of the U.S. workplace; a dynamic labor leader whose legacy lives on in today's workplaces and ongoing alliances between labor activists and environmentalists, and those who believe in the promise of America.

In The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, author and labor expert Les Leopold recounts the life of the late Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union leader. Mazzocchi's struggle to address the unconscionable toxic exposure of tens of thousands of workers led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and included work alongside nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood. His noble, high-profile efforts forever changed working conditions in American industry--and made him enemy number one to a powerful few.

As early as the 1950s, when the term "environment" was nowhere on the political radar, Mazzocchi learned about nuclear fallout and began integrating environmental concerns into his critique of capitalism and his union work. An early believer in global warming, he believed that the struggle of capital against nature was the irreconcilable contradiction that would force systemic change.

Mazzocchi's story of non-stop activism parallels the rise and fall of industrial unionism. From his roots in a pro-FDR, immigrant family in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, through McCarthyism, the Sixties, and the surge of the environmental movement, Mazzocchi took on Corporate America, the labor establishment and a complacent Democratic Party.

This profound biography should be required reading for those who believe in taking risks and making the world a better place. While Mazzocchi's story is so full of peril and deception that it seems almost a work of fiction, Leopold proves that the most provocative and lasting stories in life are those of real people.

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

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The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor

Les Leopold

Paperback $24.95

We Don’t Quit!

We Don’t Quit!

By Don Stillman

We Don’t Quit! describes the crucial role the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has played in the global struggle for workers’ rights. At a time when labor’s power seems to be waning, the book establishes the UAW’s vigorous internationalism as a counterbalance to corporate globalization and anti-worker repression by foreign governments. The UAW joined independent black unions in South Africa in the struggle against apartheid. It supported the Solidarity union in Poland that toppled the communist regime there. In Central America, the UAW stood up for workers targeted by death squads. In moving detail, author Don Stillman describes the UAW’s efforts to win freedom for imprisoned worker activists in Burma, China, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Mexico. In addition, he outlines how the support of German workers helped the UAW organize workers in North Carolina in the face of a harsh anti-union campaign. At a time when corporations operate without national boundaries, We Don’t Quit!charts a path for workers to join together across borders to preserve and expand workers’ rights.

Available in: Paperback

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We Don’t Quit!

Don Stillman, Gary Casteel, Dennis Williams

Paperback $25.00

Surviving the Future

Surviving the Future

By David Fleming and Shaun Chamberlin

A Story from Lean Logic

Surviving the Future is a story drawn from the fertile ground of the late David Fleming’s extraordinary Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. That hardback consists of four hundred and seventy-two interlinked dictionary entries, inviting readers to choose their own path through its radical vision.

Recognizing that Lean Logic’s sheer size and unusual structure can be daunting, Fleming’s long-time collaborator Shaun Chamberlin has selected and edited one of these potential narratives to create Surviving the Future. The content, rare insights, and uniquely enjoyably writing style remain Fleming’s, but are presented here at a more accessible paperback-length and in conventional read-it-front-to-back format.

The subtitle—Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy—hints at Fleming’s vision. He believed that the market economy will not survive its inherent flaws beyond the early decades of this century, and that its failure will bring great challenges, but he did not dwell on this: “We know what we need to do. We need to build the sequel, to draw on inspiration which has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow.”

Surviving the Future lays out a compelling and powerfully different new economics for a post-growth world.  One that relies not on taut competitiveness and eternally increasing productivity—“putting the grim into reality”—but on the play, humor, conversation, and reciprocal obligations of a rich culture. Building on a remarkable breadth of intellectual and cultural heritage—from Keynes to Kumar, Homer to Huxley, Mumford to MacIntyre, Scruton to Shiva, Shakespeare to Schumacher—Fleming describes a world in which, as he says, “there will be time for music.”

This is the world that many of us want to live in, yet we are told it is idealistic and unrealistic. With an evident mastery of both economic theory and historical precedent, Fleming shows that it is not only desirable, but actually the only system with a realistic claim to longevity. With friendliness, humor, and charm, Surviving the Future plucks this vision out of our daydreams and shows us how to make it real.

Available in: Paperback

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Rob Hopkins, Shaun Chamberlin, David Fleming

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The World According to Monsanto (DVD)

The World According to Monsanto (DVD)

By Marie-Monique Robin

Monsanto's controversial past combines some of the most toxic products ever sold with misleading reports, pressure tactics, collusion, and attempted corruption. They now race to genetically engineer (and patent) the world's food supply, which profoundly threatens our health, environment, and economy. Combining secret documents with first-hand accounts by victims, scientists, and politicians, this widely praised film exposes why Monsanto has become the world's poster child for malignant corporate influence in government and technology.

Also on the DVD:
Your Milk on Drugs—Just Say No!, A film by Jeffrey M. Smith

Dairy products from cows treated with Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) may sharply increase cancer risk and other diseases, especially in children. Already banned in most industrialized nations, it was approved in the U.S. on the backs of fired whistleblowers, manipulated research, and a corporate takeover at the FDA. This must-see film includes footage prepared for a Fox TV station—canceled after a letter from Monsanto's attorney threatened "dire consequences."

Bonus CD:
"Don't Put That in Your Mouth," a speech by Jeffrey M. Smith

You'll want to stop eating genetically modified foods after you learn how they're linked to toxic and allergic reactions; sick, sterile, and dead livestock; and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals.

Available in: DVD

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The World According to Monsanto (DVD)

Jeffrey M. Smith, Marie-Monique Robin

DVD $19.95