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Author: James McCommons
ISBN13: 978-1603580649
Title: Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service A Year Spent Riding Across America
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ePUB size: 1208 kb
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Language: English
Category: Writing Research and Publishing Guides
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; First Edition edition (November 6, 2009)
Pages: 304

Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons

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. 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.

But on reading this engaging travelogue and overview of American passenger rail, I discovered James McCommons' much more encouraging truth: the inherent efficiencies and appeal of train travel plus the good work of some conscientious employees of Amtrak and other railroads adds up to a system that, at times, delivers quite appealing train trips. The strength of this book is its overview of passenger rail, showing the public policy and operational issues involved while at the same time evoking the experience of train travel.

Waiting on a Train book. During 2008, a year when gas prices rose to record heights and the economy nosedived, James McCommons spent the year riding Amtrak around the country while speaking to railroad experts about the future of passenger rail services. As he takes various trains, he writes about his experiences traveling and his interviews.

The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service-A Year Spent Riding across America.

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An interview with James McCommons about Waiting for a Train, a new book, equal parts travelogue, personal memoir and transportation history and policy, based o. McCommons spent much of 2008 in trains. He talked to travelers, workers on the railroads, policy makers, professional planners, politicians, including many of the people who have been most involved in passenger rail policy for the past 35 years. Waiting on a Train is not a sentimentalist’s approach to rail travel. McCommons tells us plainly what the challenges are for those of us who want to see mass transit developed into a meaningful alternative to automobile and air travel. And he does not pull punches – developing passenger railroads is not going to be easy and it will not happen quickly.

McCommons gives us three books in one here. The first is an entertaining personal travelogue, recounting his travels-mostly on Amtrak-by train over the course of a year spent investigating the state of American passenger rail service.

Organized around these rail journeys, Waiting on a Train is equal parts travel narrative, personal memoir, and investigative journalism

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: 7
A really interesting look at the past, present and future of Amtrak through the lens of the long distance trains. McCommons is a university professor and some chapters come through as feeling like a published paper, but overall it was super readable. Especially as I began reading it on a Lake Shore Limited between Albany and NYC. While not a foamer myself, long distance train travel fascinates me and I enjoyed this look at the history of some - especially why the Empire Builder has that name.
While the cost of gas isn't the issue that it was in 2009, there remain many reasons to take trains. Seeing the country is one amazing one - getting there quickly isn't always.
This is a good and fair book that needs updating now that gasoline really isn't that much of an issue anymore. And the peak oil nonsense of the forward has bitten the dust. Someday the federal politicians will realize they can't just build their way out of traffic jams and start putting the bucks they now put in highways and short-hop jet travel into making Amtrak less late and haphazard.
I agree with some of the detrimental comments other reviewers posted. The author could have gone deeper in some cases and present a little more comprehensive and detailed proposal without getting too technical and boring; main reason why I give the book four stars not five. But it gets four because it is an excellent read and every one who wants to, or is already involved, with an interest in passenger railroading has to read this book as a primer. If you have no idea how a freight railroad runs, what are the main blockades other than money that face passenger rail expansion, or in general, how a railroad can contribute to American transportation infrastructure now and in the future, this book is is a great introduction. The author keeps it simple, to expand on his work, volumes have to be written but would be laden with technical and economic details that would put off a common reader who wants to get the "gist" of the current and future American passenger railroad operations.

Rail fans need to read this book to help quell the outrages propositions (Like coast to coast bullet trains) commonly found on forums, news groups, magazines, conventions, and even passenger rail advocacy groups. I see some of these proposals as detrimental to the cause because the grand and sometimes outrages scope they posses have the propensity to be instantly ignored by those who make the decisions. In result, ignoring the more sensible proposed solutions that need to be implemented.

Sometimes it is the transit companies themselves whose grandiose plans get shot down because they cannot see the big picture. As an example of this, research SEPTA's Schuylkill Valley Metro (SVM) project in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. They wanted a to build a system that connected two main cities; Reading and Philadelphia with a huge and overbuilt rail system that was a clear overshot of what is needed with price tag of over $2 billion. I should mention that there was an existing service between these cities as recent as 1983. Instead of working with what they had and negotiating with the host railroad (Norfolk Southern), SEPTA wanted a unique, separate system designed to support frequent head-ways that most likely will not be needed and never reach capacity goals. Because of this grandiose plan, the project was nixed by the feds as too expensive for what is needed. I honestly believe that if the planners of the SVM knew and UNDERSTOOD what was in this book, trains would be running between Philadelphia and Reading today. Now, it may be at least 10 more years.

In conclusion, if you want to know what is wrong with this country in regards to the problems plaguing American transportation and how the railroads can help, read this book immediately. It will get your foot in the door so you can understand not only what it takes to get a passenger rail project moving, but what obstacles it will face. You will have a better understanding in reading rail proposals and the political underlinings involved. Again, a great foundation for more advanced research if so inclined, but enough for a casual reader to get what is going on and what is needed.
Before reading James McCommons's engaging and thorough account of passenger rail service in America, I had no idea how polarizing an issue passenger rail is with politicians. It is sad that in America, every issue has to have two sides with the Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other and the divide preventing real accomplishments that could help all Americans. McCommons rode the rails--mostly Amtrak--for a year and, yes, he suffered many long delays and spotty service. But he also learned how mostly Republican politicians and some freight railroads (with Union Pacific the worst offender) stiffle the growth of passenger rail service in America. Democrats do not always escape blame either, as their inability to take action when they are in the majority has also hurt the expansion of rail service. Yes, Amtrak loses money but McCommons also points out how government subsidizes the air and highway industries at an exponentially greater rate than it does for railroads. The refusal to fund passenger rail properly is just another example of how this country, as great as it is, still falls short.
With the Obama Administration starting to fund passenger rail more aggressively, I found this book to be a very well reasoned and timely addition to the literature. The book functions at one level as something of a travelogue, with the author taking various train trips and noting facts about the train and the passengers it serves. But more importantly, the book delves into the history of the passenger train, the reasons it started it's decline after WWII, and how Amtrak got it's start. The author takes pains to avoid being a "railfan cheerleader"; if anything he seems to go out of his way to decry avid railfans as being somewhat out of touch, which I personally could have done a little without. Never the less, his dispassion towards rail as a hobby serves him well as he discusses the key challenges rail currently faces, specifically capacity, funding, timekeeping, and linkage to other transportation modes.

For someone looking for a good overview of what to expect as we see more high speed rail, and as conventional rail gets more attention, this book is an excellent resource in my opinion. It is well written, very factual, and most of all, the author understands the industry and can discuss it as a business and a service industry.