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


Runaway Inequality

Runaway Inequality

By Les Leopold

Runaway inequality is now America’s most critical economic fact of life. In 1970, the ratio of pay between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker was 45 to 1. Today it is a shocking 829 to one! During that time a new economic philosophy set in that cut taxes, deregulated finance, and trimmed social spending. Those policies set in motion a process that greatly expanded the power of financial interests to accelerate inequality. But how exactly does that happen?

Using easy-to-understand charts and graphs, Runaway Inequality explains the process by which corporation after corporation falls victim to systematic wealth extraction by banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds. It reveals how financial strip-mining puts enormous downward pressure on jobs, wages, benefits, and working conditions, while boosting the incomes of financial elites.

But Runaway Inequality does more than make sense of our economic plight. It also shows why virtually all the key issues that we face—from climate change to the exploding prison population—are intimately connected to rising economic inequality.

Most importantly, Runaway Inequality calls upon us to build a common movement to tackle the sources of increasing income and wealth inequality. As the author makes clear, the problem will not cure itself. It will take enormous energy and dedication to bring economic justice and fairness back to American society.

The book is divided into four parts:

  • Part I: What is the fundamental cause of runaway economic inequality? What has made our economy less fair and left most of us less secure?
  • Part II: How does the United States really compare with other major developed countries?  How do we stack up on quality of life, health, and well-being?
  • Part III:  What does economic inequality have to do with so many of the critical issues we face, including taxes, debt, education, criminal justice, racism, climate change, foreign trade, and war?
  • Part IV: What concrete steps can we take to begin building a fair and just society?   

From the book: “There is nothing in the economic universe that will automatically rescue us from runaway inequality. There is no pendulum, no invisible political force that ‘naturally’ will swing back towards economic fairness. Either we wage a large-scale battle for economic, social, and environmental justice, or we will witness the continued deterioration of the world we inhabit. The arc of capitalism does not bend towards justice. We must bend it.”

Available in: Paperback

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Runaway Inequality

Les Leopold

Paperback $19.95

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire

By Bill Kauffman

It's been almost a century and a half since a critical mass of Americans believed that secession was an American birthright. But breakaway movements large and small are rising up across the nation. From Vermont to Alaska, activists driven by all manner of motives want to form new states-and even new nations.

So, just what's happening out there? The American Empire is dying, says Bill Kauffman in this incisive, eye-opening investigation into modern-day secession-the next radical idea poised to enter mainstream discourse. And those rising up to topple that empire are a surprising mix of conservatives, liberals, regionalists, and independents who-from movement to movement-may share few political beliefs but who have one thing in common: a sense that our nation has grown too large, and too powerfully centralized, to stay true to its founding principles.

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire traces the historical roots of the secessionist spirit, and introduces us to the often radical, sometimes quixotic, and highly charged movements that want to decentralize and re-localize power.

During the George W. Bush administration, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate, a place it had not occupied since 1861. Now, secessionist voices on the left and right and everywhere in between are amplifying. Writes Kauffman, "The noise is the sweet hum of revolution, of subjects learning how to be citizens, of people shaking off . . . their Wall Street and Pentagon overlords and taking charge of their lives once more."

Engaging, illuminating, even sometimes troubling, Bye Bye, Miss American Empire is a must-read for those taking the pulse of the nation.

Available in: Paperback

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Bye Bye, Miss American Empire

Bill Kauffman

Paperback $17.95

Lean Logic

Lean Logic

By David Fleming

Lean Logic is David Fleming’s masterpiece, the product of more than thirty years’ work and a testament to the creative brilliance of one of Britain’s most important intellectuals.

A dictionary unlike any other, it leads readers through Fleming’s stimulating exploration of fields as diverse as culture, history, science, art, logic, ethics, myth, economics, and anthropology, being made up of four hundred and seventy-two engaging essay-entries covering topics such as Boredom, Community, Debt, Growth, Harmless Lunatics, Land, Lean Thinking, Nanotechnology, Play, Religion, Spirit, Trust, and Utopia.

The threads running through every entry are Fleming’s deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations—ecological, economic, and cultural— on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences. A society that provides a satisfying, culturally-rich context for lives well lived, in an economy not reliant on the impossible promise of eternal economic growth. A society worth living in. Worth fighting for. Worth contributing to.

The beauty of the dictionary format is that it allows Fleming to draw connections without detracting from his in-depth exploration of each topic. Each entry carries intriguing links to other entries, inviting the enchanted reader to break free of the imposed order of a conventional book, starting where she will and following the links in the order of her choosing. In combination with Fleming’s refreshing writing style and good-natured humor, it also creates a book perfectly suited to dipping in and out.

The decades Fleming spent honing his life's work are evident in the lightness and mastery with which Lean Logic draws on an incredible wealth of cultural and historical learning—from Whitman to Whitefield, Dickens to Daly, Kropotkin to Kafka, Keats to Kuhn, Oakeshott to Ostrom, Jung to Jensen, Machiavelli to Mumford, Mauss to Mandelbrot, Leopold to Lakatos, Polanyi to Putnam, Nietzsche to Næss, Keynes to Kumar, Scruton to Shiva, Thoreau to Toynbee, Rabelais to Rogers, Shakespeare to Schumacher, Locke to Lovelock, Homer to Homer-Dixon—in demonstrating that many of the principles it commends have a track-record of success long pre-dating our current society.

Fleming acknowledges, with honesty, the challenges ahead, but rather than inducing despair, Lean Logic is rare in its ability to inspire optimism in the creativity and intelligence of humans to nurse our ecology back to health; to rediscover the importance of place and play, of reciprocity and resilience, and of community and culture.

Lean Logic is a comfort in disorientating times. A book to keep at your side. A dictionary of empowerment.

Available in: Hardcover

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Lean Logic

Shaun Chamberlin, Jonathon Porritt, David Fleming

Hardcover $49.95

Learning Environment, Limits to Growth (CD-ROM)

Learning Environment, Limits to Growth (CD-ROM)

By Donella Meadows and Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows

This disc is intended for serious students of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. It permits users to reproduce and examine the details of the ten scenarios published in the book. The CD can be run on most Macintosh and PC operating systems. With it you will be able to:

  • Reproduce the three graphs for each of the scenarios as they appear in the book
  • Graph the eleven individual parameters for each scenario
  • Create comparative plots to examine the behavior of one parameter under the assumptions for two or more scenarios
  • Print out 47 key variables in five-year increments from 1900 to 2100 for any of the scenarios

The CD also includes:

  • Full model equations compatible with STELLA
  • Eighty-five JPEG files of the important book illustrations for use in lectures and classroom discussions.

Available in: CD-ROM

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Learning Environment, Limits to Growth (CD-ROM)

Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows

CD-ROM $20.00