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
eBook: 9781603582599
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

Paperback

Available Date:
November 06, 2009

$19.95

Availability: In Stock

eBook

Available Date:
November 06, 2009

$17.95 $14.36

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.



REVIEWS AND PRAISE

"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.

AWARDS

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

AUTHOR VIDEOS

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

Waiting on a Train-Book Trailer

Waiting on a Train-Book Trailer

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

The Culture of Make Believe

The Culture of Make Believe

By Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen takes no prisoners in The Culture of Make Believe, his brilliant and eagerly awaited follow-up to his powerful and lyrical A Language Older Than Words. What begins as an exploration of the lines of thought and experience that run between the massive lynchings in early twentieth-century America to today's death squads in South America soon explodes into an examination of the very heart of our civilization. The Culture of Make Believe is a book that is as impeccably researched as it is moving, with conclusions as far-reaching as they are shocking.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More

The Culture of Make Believe

Derrick Jensen

Paperback $25.00

The End of America

The End of America

By Naomi Wolf

In a stunning indictment of the Bush administration and Congress, best-selling author Naomi Wolf lays out her case for saving American democracy. In authoritative research and documentation Wolf explains how events of the last six years parallel steps taken in the early years of the 20th century’s worst dictatorships such as Germany, Russia, China, and Chile.

The book cuts across political parties and ideologies and speaks directly to those among us who are concerned about the ever-tightening noose being placed around our liberties.

In this timely call to arms, Naomi Wolf compels us to face the way our free America is under assault. She warns us–with the straight-to-fellow-citizens urgency of one of Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlets–that we have little time to lose if our children are to live in real freedom.

“Recent history has profound lessons for us in the U.S. today about how fascist, totalitarian, and other repressive leaders seize and maintain power, especially in what were once democracies. The secret is that these leaders all tend to take very similar, parallel steps. The Founders of this nation were so deeply familiar with tyranny and the habits and practices of tyrants that they set up our checks and balances precisely out of fear of what is unfolding today. We are seeing these same kinds of tactics now closing down freedoms in America, turning our nation into something that in the near future could be quite other than the open society in which we grew up and learned to love liberty,” states Wolf.

Wolf is taking her message directly to the American people in the most accessible form and as part of a large national campaign to reach out to ordinary Americans about the dangers we face today. This includes a lecture and speaking tour, and being part of the nascent American Freedom Campaign, a grassroots effort to ensure that presidential candidates pledge to uphold the constitution and protect our liberties from further erosion.

The End of America will shock, enrage, and motivate–spurring us to act, as the Founders would have counted on us to do in a time such as this, as rebels and patriots–to save our liberty and defend our nation.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More

The End of America

Naomi Wolf

Paperback $13.95

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

Read More

Runaway Inequality

Les Leopold

Paperback $19.95

The Looting of America

The Looting of America

By Les Leopold

How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it?

In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance.

He also asks some tough questions:

  • Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large?
  • Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes?
  • Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy?
  • How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again?
  • And what can we do to get our money back?

In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street's exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by "innovative" products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They'll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again.

As the country teeters on the brink of what could be the next Great Depression, we should be especially wary of the so-called financial experts who got us here, and then conveniently got themselves out. So far, it appears they've won the battle, but The Looting of America refuses to let them write the history--or plan its aftermath.

Available in: eBook

Read More

The Looting of America

Les Leopold

eBook $14.95