Vol. 6 No. 41
October 10, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News items… 
Security Alerts
Rail service from New Orleans resumes
Amtrak Reports Steady Ridership Despite Problems.
  Safety lines… 
Union Pacific Railroad Completes $16 Million
   Crossing Sign Project
  Commuter lines… 
Planners Vie for Study on Commuter Train Service;
   Rail Revival Sought in Pawtucket
MBTA Promotes Try Transit Week;
   Blue Line gets another facelift.
  Business Lines… 
Capitol Corridor strikes gold
RailAmerica Completes Acquisition of Four Short Line
   Railroads from Alcoa
Support for aviation fuel tax relief builds in Congress
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Freight lines… 
Port Plans Near-Dock Rail Transfer Facility
  Editorial… 
One Death Too Many. Now There are Three
Guest editorial. The Present DangerŠgrows
  Events / Meetings… 
The Bioregional Basis of Urban Sustainability
  We get letters… 
  End notes… 

 

Security alerts!

As Destination:Freedom went to press, the nation’s major transit systems were responding to a raised threat level that had been declared for New York City based on “credible information” obtained by the Department of Homeland Security. While some cities have since raised their own security levels in response to the New York threat, others have not. Some stray packages have been found within New York’s and other metro systems, none have proven to be a direct threat. In some instances, they were simply misplaced items left behind by busy commuters.

The issue of rail security has risen incrementally in importance since the disasters of Sept 11 and continues to be the subject of attention as new ways to address rail security issues are developed.


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People get bags inspected

AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel

New York police search a commuter’s suitcase at the Union Square subway station in New York.

 

Rail service from New Orleans resumes

Wire Source

WASHINGTON DC - The first Amtrak passenger rail service between New Orleans and New York City since Hurricane Katrina, was to begin this past weekend.

Hurricane Katrina caused heavy damage to the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal and to the rail lines owned by the CN Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railway which lead into the city.

“We are proud to restore our operations to and from New Orleans to both serve passengers and to help New Orleans rebuild,” said William L. Crosbie, Amtrak Senior Vice President for Operations. “We are looking forward to a steady growth in passengers to and from New Orleans as the city and the surrounding parishes make repairs and more businesses join us in reopening.”

The first train set to depart New Orleans on October 9 was the Crescent at 7:20 a.m., en route to Meridian, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Gainesville, Toccoa, Charlotte, N.C., Washington, New York City and other destinations. At 1:45 p.m., the City of New Orleans was to depart en route to Jackson, Miss., Memphis, Tenn., Carbondale, Ill., Chicago and other destinations.

The southbound City of New Orleans and Crescent was scheduled to arrive from Chicago and New York later that afternoon and evening.

In 2004, 161,449 passengers were ticketed to or from New Orleans, one of only two locations in the central U.S. where Amtrak trains connect between the east and west. Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 28, all of the eastern and western train connections have been made in Chicago while service along the gulf coast was disrupted.

At this time, taxis and other public transportation are not yet available within New Orleans and many other services are very limited.

Amtrak said service on the Sunset Limited, a three-day-a-week train from Orlando, Fla., to Los Angeles will remain suspended for the present. Service to Beaumont, Texas and Houston would be resumed later, but eastern service will not begin until at least 2006 because of extensive damage to tracks and bridges owned by CSX Transportation.


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Amtrak Reports Steady Ridership Despite Problems.

By Matthew L. Wald
The New York Times

WASHINGTON DC - Amtrak will end its fiscal year in a few days with “no measurable impact on our ridership” from the brake problem that sidelined the Acela fleet this year, the chairman of the railroad’s board told Congress on Wednesday.

As Congress enters the late stages of the annual subsidy dance, with Amtrak allies proclaiming that the railroad is on a starvation budget and opponents saying taxpayers are throwing good money after bad, the chairman, David M. Laney, portrayed the railroad as making progress in putting its financial house in order. But he acknowledged that major structural changes were needed.

Mr. Laney said the deficit per mile traveled by each train had fallen to $13 in the 2004 fiscal year, down from $22 in the 2000 fiscal year, and that ridership had grown over the period to 25.1 million, from 22.5 million. Employment, he said, was 19,500, down 2,000 in four years.

Amtrak also announced on Wednesday that it was returning Acela service to the level it had been before the trains were pulled off the track in April because of brake cracks. Some service resumed in July.

The railroad lost $1 million a week in revenues when it carried passengers on its older trains, which are slower, less plush, and have lower fares. It had not calculated the cumulative loss, but a spokesman said the Acela’s manufacturer would compensate the railroad, although the amount is under negotiation.

Not all the witnesses at the hearing, conducted by the railroad subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, were so upbeat. Kenneth M. Mead, the inspector general of the Department of Transportation, said Amtrak’s operating losses for the 2004 fiscal year were $1.3 billion, up from $797 million in 1997. The railroad, he said, had “few incentives, other than the threat of budget cuts or elimination, for cost control or delivery of services in a cost-effective way.”

Mr. Mead said Amtrak was subsidizing first-class passengers twice as much as coach-class passengers.

The full House has approved a subsidy of $1.176 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, roughly the same as the current subsidy, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted for $1.45 billion. It is likely that both houses will vote to continue financing at last year’s levels until a final budget is approved.


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Union Pacific Railroad Completes $16 Million Crossing Sign Project

Source: Union Pacific

OMAHA NB - Union Pacific Railroad has completed a four-year, $16 million project to install new, high reflective crossbuck warning signs at more than 18,000 railroad crossings across Union Pacific’s 23-state system.

Union Pacific also installed emergency notification signs at these crossings.

“The emergency notification signs provide information motorists need if there is a problem,” said Steve Berki, director-industry and public projects.

Each crossing has a unique Department of Transportation number that’s included on the sign, along with the toll-free number for UP’s Response Management Communication Center (RMCC). The crossbuck and emergency notification signs were installed at public at-grade crossings without flashing lights or gates. RMCC’s toll-free telephone number is 888-877-7267.

The DOT number enables RMCC to identify the motorist’s exact location. If, for instance, a vehicle is stuck on the track, the dispatcher is notified to stop train traffic.

Through the first eight months of this year, RMCC received 1,381 calls from motorists who were able to report a problem and their location based on information provided on the signs.

The safety initiative also included private crossings which are those that cross the railroad tracks but are not a public street or road. Private crossing, stop and emergency notification signs were installed at all locations except crossings that allow agriculture producers to go from one field to another.

Union Pacific Corporation owns one of America’s leading transportation companies. Its principal operating company, Union Pacific Railroad, links 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country and serves the fastest-growing U.S. population centers. Union Pacific’s diversified business mix includes Agricultural Products, Automotive, Chemicals, Energy, Industrial Products and Intermodal. The railroad offers long-haul routes from all major West Coast and Gulf Coast ports to eastern gateways, connects with Canada’s rail systems and is the only railroad serving all six major gateways to Mexico.

For more information contact Mark Davis, 402-544-5459.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Pawtucket, RI Station

For NCI: Leo King

The Pawtucket, RI. station sits in disrepair over the main line but its future looks promising.

 

Planners Vie for Study on Commuter Train Service;
Rail Revival Sought in Pawtucket

Compiled from sources

PAWTUCKET, RI - It was the biggest crowd to gather over the railroad tracks in years, reported the Providence Journal.

Thirty architects and planners toured the Pawtucket-Central Falls Train Station last week, snapping photographs and showering questions on the City Planning Dept director. They represented 23 companies that are interested in landing a contract to study the feasibility of restoring commuter rail service along that line, which is owned by Amtrak.

The Pawtucket Department of Planning and Redevelopment is offering to pay $400,000 in federal funds to the company it hires to do the study, whose main purpose is to get the trains that now bypass Pawtucket and Central Falls to stop here.

The Pawtucket station, which hasn’t had passenger trains stop there since the late 1970’s, is a 90-year-old Beaux Arts structure with an interior that looks like a mini-Grand Central Terminal, but it has deteriorated into ruin over the years.

Problems of ownership will be a challenge. Amtrak owns the tracks but a developer owns the station and has had intentions to tear it down to build a small shopping plaza.

The planning department has its eyes on another site owned by the Providence & Worcester Railroad, but this area is leased by developers who wanted a zone change in order to turn it into a waste transfer station. When the city wouldn’t give them the zone change, a $10 million lawsuit ensued. The suit is pending in Superior Court, Providence.

So the city turned back to the rail station plan and has made progress with the owner. “He’s come to the table and said he’s interested in working with us,” said Planning Director Michael Cassidy, according to the Journal. The developer’s lawyer said his client is now interested in saving the rail station and has met with the mayor, it reported.

Mayor Doyle’s number one priority is to get the rail service restored as quickly as possible, the Journal reports, and Cassidy has said he’d like to see the study completed in six months.


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MBTA Promotes Try Transit Week;
Blue Line gets another facelift.

Compiled from Press Sources

In a press release issued this past week, The MBTA’s recently appointed new general manager, Dan Grabauskas, announced “Try Transit Week”.

The event seeks to promote the MBTA’s ongoing efforts to encourage the use of public transportation and educate the public on the benefits of making the MBTA an integral part of everyday life. The weeklong public awareness campaign highlighted the advantages of having access to public transportation and its role as a preferred alternative to the automobile. This fall, they are asking people to think twice about public transportation and give it a try.

Elsewhere within the MBTA, as a part of its ongoing effort to rebuild and replace aged stations within the transit system, federal, state, and local officials held a ground-breaking ceremony to formally mark the beginning of a project that will completely rebuild Maverick Station in the East Boston neighborhood. The century-old Blue Line Station will be transformed into a state-of-the-art, multi-modal transportation facility that includes: new head houses for significantly improved pedestrian access, extended platforms to accommodate six-car trains, and new escalators and elevators from the subway platform to Maverick Square Plaza and Lewis Mall.

“Transportation is a vital issue, one that directly affects the quality of life in our city,” Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino said. “I’m proud that by working together with the MBTA and the community, we’re making renovations that will give residents better access to good public transportation. Let’s continue to work together as this project moves forward.”

Officials dig in at ground-breaking ceremony

Photo: MBTA

Federal, state, local, and MBTA officials at the groundbreaking ceremony to formally mark the beginning of a project that will completely rebuild Maverick Station.

“Governor Romney has stressed the importance of re-investment in our existing transportation infrastructure, and this project is a case-study in that sentiment,” said Massachusetts State Transportation Secretary John Cogliano. “East Boston is an area on the move, and the renovated Maverick station will help local residents get to their destinations with greatly improved ease and accessibility.”

Part of the $750 million Blue Line Modernization Project, the renovation of Maverick Station will also feature: updated electrical and mechanical systems, installation of automated fare equipment, new lighting, signage, public address system, and LED systems. Also included in the $55 million contract is the construction of new vent shafts and improvements to Maverick Square parking, pedestrian and vehicular circulation.

Earlier this year, the MBTA opened a replacement station for its Blue Line stop at Logan International Airport directly adjacent to the old one, which has since been retired. When complete, the Blue Line renovations will allow the MBTA to run 6-car consists and move more people per train. At present it is limited to 4-car consists due to the length of many station platforms. As a part of the overall revamping, the Blue Line will run from Wonderland Station in the Town of Revere to Boston’s Government Center stop. Bowdoin Square Station, which is the current Boston terminus, will be retired because its physical location will prevent a platform length upgrade. Instead, a new additional entrance to Government Center Station will be opened using an existing capped entryway that is between the two stations. The MBTA does not see the closure of the Bowdoin Square Station as a major burden on its customer base as the majority of ridership already exists at Government Center. They have already started terminating train sets at Government Center on weekends as a prelude to the station’s closure.

The Blue Line is also under consideration for an extension north to the City of Lynn and possibly beyond.


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

Capitol Corridor strikes gold

By Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster

Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor, a California train that is operated by a consortium of Bay Area transit agencies including BART, may be providing a financial infusion to Amtrak’s rail lines in California.

The line, which carries commuters and sightseers between Sacramento and San Jose with 12 daily roundtrips, recorded a 6.4 percent increase in its ridership during August of this year as reported in the East Bay Business Times.

A total of 108,225 people rode the trains during that month. The ticket revenues of over $1.2 million represented a 12.9 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

Also Amtrak’s San Joaquin line, with four daily roundtrips between Oakland and Bakersfield and two between Bakersfield and Sacramento, had a 4.4 percent increase in riders and an 11 percent increase in ticket sales.

The state’s busiest line is the Pacific Surfliner, which operates a dozen daily roundtrip trains between Los Angeles and San Diego. That train has transported some 269,483 passengers during August of this year, which represents a 5.6 percent increase. Ticket revenues of more than $4.3 million were up nearly 10 percent over the same month last year.


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RailAmerica Completes Acquisition of
Four Short Line Railroads from Alcoa

Source: RailAmerica, Inc. & Business Wire

BOCA RATON, Fla., (BUSINESS WIRE) -- RailAmerica, Inc. (RRA) today announced the completion of its acquisition of four short line railroads from Alcoa for a purchase price of $77.5 million in cash. The cash purchase price is based on RailAmerica assuming a targeted working capital deficit. RailAmerica funded substantially all of the cash purchase price through a $75 million increase in the term loan portion of its existing senior secured credit facility.

The four railroads acquired serve Alcoa aluminum manufacturing operations in Texas and New York and a former Alcoa owned specialty chemicals facility in Arkansas. For the twelve months ended June 30, 2005, the four railroads handled 30,000 carloads, generated revenue of $20.8 million, resulting in operating income of $10.1 million and had depreciation and amortization expense of $0.2 million. The four railroads, which operate a total of 25 miles, had capital expenditures of $50,000 for the twelve months ended June 30, 2005.

RailAmerica has agreed to acquire the stock of the railroads under Section 338(h) (10) of the Internal Revenue Code and will therefore benefit from the stepped-up tax basis of the assets.

Charles Swinburn, Chief Executive Officer of RailAmerica said, “We are pleased to have these four railroads and the dedicated employees who serve them join RailAmerica. In addition to a well-maintained asset base and excellent customers, the railroads have a history of strong cash flow generation. RailAmerica expects that the transaction will be accretive in the first year.”

RailAmerica, Inc. (RRA) is a leading short line and regional rail service provider with 47 railroads operating approximately 8,875 miles in the United States and Canada. The Company is a member of the Russell 2000(R) Index. Its website may be found at http://www.railamerica.com.


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Support for aviation fuel tax relief builds in Congress

by David Beale

Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), a member of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, has sent a letter to Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) expressing support “for a one-year suspension of the 4.3 cents-per-gallon excise tax on aviation fuel as the House [of Representatives] considers ways to facilitate recovery and mitigate the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.”

The letter, which was signed by the entire Georgia delegation, was sent Sept. 28, far too late to keep Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines out of bankruptcy.

“We all understand that the price of fuel was already at historically high levels before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and that those prices spiked dramatically after the storm amid fears of tight supplies resulting from damaged refining capacity,” the letter stated. “Travelers, however, have become increasingly price-sensitive and this fact has made it nearly impossible for carriers to pass along those higher fuel costs and remain competitive. The Federal tax burden on airlines has amplified a serious problem - airline travel is now taxed at higher rates than any other form of transportation.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)58.9159.80
Canadian National (CNI)71.7470.99
Canadian Pacific (CP) 43.1442.96
CSX (CSX)45.1046.48
Florida East Coast (FLA)43.7145.29
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)31.9031.70
Kansas City Southern (KSU)22.5023.31
Norfolk Southern (NSC)40.3840.56
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.1613.99
Union Pacific (UNP)70.6071.70


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Port Plans Near-Dock Rail Transfer Facility

By Kurt Helin
Editor, Gazette Newspapers

LONG BEACH, CA - One way the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are considering reducing the amount of truck traffic up and down regional freeways is to get that cargo on trains.

Newer terminals accomplish that with on-dock rail, loading containers directly onto railroad cars from ships, and vice versa.

But another way is to have a “near-dock rail,” where a truck would take a cargo container off the dock to a nearby facility, where it would be loaded on a train headed up the Alameda Corridor or to whatever location.

The Port of Los Angeles, along with BNSF railroad, wants to build a new, large container transfer facility on land near Long Beach. Because of that, there will be a public meeting on the plans at 6 p.m. this Thursday at the Silverado Park Community Center, 1545 W. 31st St.

The facility is planned for an area boarded by Sepulveda Boulevard (Willow) to the north, Pacific Coast Highway to the south, the Dominguez Channel to the west, and the Terminal Island Freeway to the east. It is land in an industrial area of the port complex.

Backers of these near-dock facilities say this facility “would eliminate millions of truck trips annually from the 710 Freeway” because the trucks would be making the shorter trip up the Terminal Island Freeway and not heading all the way to the cargo’s final destination or to inland railroad yards.

Once driven to the facility, the cargo would be loaded on trains that would head up the Alameda Corridor, then out to destinations in the Inland Empire and throughout the nation.

“As our roads and highways get more congested, we need to look for the other ways to move our cargo besides trucks, and near dock rail is a great solution,” said Janice Hahn, the Los Angeles city councilwoman whose district the project would be in.

Because this would be another place that cargo could be stored, it also is something that could help increase the overall volume of goods coming through the ports.

BNSF officials are touting the plan as good for the environment, noting that cargo hauled by train means fewer pollutants than by truck. The company also said it is purchasing cleaner-running engines for its locomotives.


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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

One Death Too Many ---
Now There are Three

By Jim RePass
NCI President & CEO

The 4-year-oldf girl injured so badly in the September 28 grade crossing accident in Connecticut has as of this writing been declared brain-dead. Her grandmother and 8-year-old brother were killed on the spot at Miner’s Crossing in Waterford when their car for reasons that may never be known forced itself under a down crossing gate, and directly into the path of an Acela Express.

That makes three needless deaths at a grade crossing which, like so many others along heavily traveled freight and passenger routes, should not even be allowed to exist

For more than a decade we at NCI have campaigned for a national transportation policy that, among other things, would require ALL grade crossings to be bridged, tunneled, or closed. It is a disgrace that there is so little thought given to developing a coherent U.S. transportation policy. The Federal allocation for grade crossing replacement hovers in the low millions per year --- less than is spent, for example, to repave a short stretch of highway.

It is long past time for Congress to act. If you have the time, write your Congressman, your Senator, and your Governor. No, on second thought, please FIND the time to write them all. This inexcusable situation can be changed --- but we have to speak out, and loudly.

Update – As DF went to press we learned that Courtney Metzermacher of Waterford, CT was pronounced dead at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, hospital spokesman Chris Boyle said.

Courtney was with her grandmother, Patricia Metzermacher, 61, and brother, Zachary Joseph Metzermacher, when an Amtrak train hit their car on a railroad crossing on Sept. 29, about 2 miles west of New London.

The girl had been in critical condition at the children's hospital since the accident, which happened when her grandmother, Patricia Metzermacher, was driving the boy to his school bus stop.


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Guest editorial

The Present DangerŠ.grows

Remarks by James Howard Kunstler at the Petro Collapse Conference, New York City, October 5, 2005. (Kunstler is author of “The Long Emergency”, and other works dealing with the effects of America’s highway-centric transportation policies)

By permission: The Petrocollapse Conference, New York City, October 5, 2005 -sponsored by Culture Change, www.petrocollapse.org

 

In the waning months of 2005, our failure to face the problems before us as a society is a wondrous thing to behold. Never before in American history have the public and its leaders shown such a lack of resolve, or even interest, in circumstances that will change forever how we live.

Even the greatest convulsion in our national experience, the Civil War, was preceded by years of talk, if not action. But in 2005 we barely have enough talk about what is happening to add up to a public conversation. We’re too busy following Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson, or the NASCAR rankings, or the exploits of Donald Trump. We’re immersed in a national personality freak show soap opera, with a side order of sports 24-7.

Our failure to pay attention to what is important is unprecedented, even supernatural.

This is true even at the supposedly highest level. The news section of last Sunday’s New York Times did not contain one story about oil or gas - a week after Hurricane Rita destroyed or damaged hundreds of drilling rigs and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico - which any thought person can see leading directly to a winter of hardship for many Americans who can barely afford to heat their homes - and the information about the damage around the Gulf was still just then coming in.

What is important?

We’ve entered a permanent world-wide energy crisis. The implications are enormous. It could put us out-of-business as a cohesive society. We face a crisis in finance, which will be a consequence of the energy predicament as well as a broad and deep lapse in our standards, values, and behavior in financial affairs.

We face a crisis in practical living arrangements as the infrastructure of suburbia becomes hopelessly unaffordable to run. How will fill our gas tanks to make those long commutes? How will we heat the 3500 square foot homes that people are already in? How will we run the yellow school bus fleets? How will we heat the schools?

What will happen to the economy connected with the easy motoring utopia - the building of ever more McHouses, WalMarts, office parks, and Pizza Huts? Over the past thirty days, with gasoline prices ratcheting above $3 a gallon, individuals all over America are deciding not to buy that new house in Partridge Acres, 34 miles from Dallas (or Minneapolis, or Denver, or Boston). Those individual choices will soon add up, and an economy addicted to that activity will be in trouble.

The housing bubble has virtually become our economy. Subtract it from everything else and there’s not much left besides haircutting, fried chicken, and open heart surgery.

And, of course, as the housing bubble deflates, the magical mortgage machinery spinning off a fabulous stream of hallucinated credit, to be re-packaged as tradable debt, will also stop flowing into the finance sector.

We face a series of ramifying, self-reinforcing, terrifying breaks from business-as-usual, and we are not prepared. We are not talking about it in the traditional forums - only in the wilderness of the internet.

Mostly we face a crisis of clear thinking which will lead to further crises of authority and legitimacy - of who can be trusted to hold this project of civilization together.

Americans were once a brave and forward-looking people, willing to face the facts, willing to work hard, to acknowledge the common good and contribute to it, willing to make difficult choices. We’ve become a nation of overfed clowns and crybabies, afraid of the truth, indifferent to the common good, hardly even a common culture, selfish, belligerent, narcissistic whiners seeking every means possible to live outside a reality-based community.

These are the consequences of a value system that puts comfort, convenience, and leisure above all other considerations. These are not enough to hold a civilization together. We’ve signed off on all other values since the end of World War Two. Our great victory over manifest evil half a century ago was such a triumph that we have effectively - and incrementally - excused ourselves from all other duties, obligations and responsibilities.

Which is exactly why we have come to refer to ourselves as consumers. That’s what we call ourselves on TV, in the newspapers, in the legislatures. Consumers. What a degrading label for people who used to be citizens.

Consumers have no duties, obligations, or responsibilities to anything besides their own desire to eat more Cheez Doodles and drink more beer. Think about yourself that way for twenty or thirty years and it will affect the collective spirit very negatively. And our behavior. The biggest losers, of course, end up being the generations of human beings who will follow us, because in the course of mutating into consumers, preoccupied with our Cheez Doodle consumption, we gave up on the common good, which means that we gave up on the future, and the people who will dwell in it.

There are a few other impediments to our collective thinking which obstruct a coherent public discussion of the events facing us which I call the Long Emergency. They can be described with precision.

Because the creation of suburbia was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, it has entailed a powerful psychology of previous investment - meaning, that we have put so much of our collective wealth into a particular infrastructure for daily life, that we can’t imagine changing it, or reforming it, or letting go of it. The psychology of previous investment is exactly what makes this way of life non-negotiable.

Another obstacle to clear thinking I refer to as the Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind. The ethos of gambling is based on a particular idea: the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing. The psychology of unearned riches. This idea has now insidiously crept out of the casinos and spread far-and-wide and lodged itself in every corner of our lives. It’s there in the interest-only, no down payment, quarter million-dollar mortgages given to people with no record of ever paying back a loan. It’s there in the grade inflation of the ivy league colleges where everybody gets As and Bs regardless of performance. It’s in the rap videos of young men flashing 10,000-dollar watches acquired by making up nursery rhymes about gangster life - and in the taboos that prevent us from even talking about that. It’s in the suburbanite’s sense of entitlement to a supposedly non-negotiable easy motoring existence.

The idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing is alive and rampant among those who think we can run the interstate highway system and Walt Disney World on bio-diesel or solar power.

People who believe that it is possible to get something for nothing have trouble living in a reality-based community.

This is even true of the well-intentioned lady in my neighborhood who drives a Ford Expedition with the War Is Not the Answer bumper sticker on it. The truth, for her, is that War IS the Answer. She needs to get down with that. She needs to prepare to send her children to be blown up in Asia.

The Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind is a pernicious idea in itself, but it is compounded by another mental problem, which I call the Jiminy Cricket syndrome. Jiminy Cricket was Pinocchio’s little sidekick in the Walt Disney Cartoon feature. The idea is that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. It’s a nice sentiment for children, perhaps, but not really suited to adults who have to live in a reality-based community, especially in difficult times.

The idea - that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true - obviously comes from the immersive environment of advertising and the movies, which is to say, an immersive environment of make-believe, of pretend. Trouble is, the world-wide energy crisis is not make-believe, and we can’t pretend our way through it, and those of us who are adults cannot afford to think like children, no matter how comforting it is.

Combine when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true with the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing, and the psychology of previous investment and you get a powerful recipe for mass delusional thinking.

As our society comes under increasing stress, we’re liable to see increased delusional thinking, as worried people retreat further into make-believe and pretend.

The desperate defense of our supposedly non-negotiable way of life may lead to delusional politics that we have never seen before in this land. An angry and grievance-filled public may turn to political maniacs to preserve their entitlements to the easy motoring utopia - even while reality negotiates things for us. I maintain that we may see leaders far more dangerous in our future than George W. Bush.

The last thing that this group needs is to get sidetracked in paranoid conspiracy politics, such as the idea that Dick Cheney orchestrated the World Trade Center attacks, which I regard as just another form of make-believe.

This is what we have to overcome to face the reality-based challenges of our time.

At the bottom of the Peak Oil issue is the fear that we’re not going to make it.

The Long Emergency looming before us is going to produce a lot of losers. Economic losers. People who will lose jobs, vocations, incomes, possessions, assets - and never get them back. Social losers. People who will lose position, power, advantage. And just plain losers, people who will lose their health and their lives.

There are no magic remedies for what we face, but there are intelligent responses that we can marshal individually and collectively. We will have to do what circumstances require of us.

We are faced with the necessity to downscale, re-scale, right-size, and reorganize all the fundamental activities of daily life: the way we grow food; the way we conduct everyday commerce and the manufacture of things that we need; the way we school our children; the size, shape, and scale of our towns and cities.

These are huge tasks. How can we bring a reality-based spirit to them?

I have a suggestion. Let’s start with one down-to-earth project that we can take on with confidence, something we have a reasonable shot at accomplishing, and fairly quickly, something that will address our energy problems directly and will make a difference for the better. Let’s get started rebuilding the passenger railroad system in our country.

Nothing else we might do would make such a substantial impact on our outlandish oil consumption.

We have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.

The fact that we are not talking about this shows how deeply unserious we are - especially the Democratic party. I am a registered Democrat. Where is my party on this issue? Where was John Kerry? Where are Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer? We should demand that they get serious about rebuilding the public transit of America - not next month or next year but tomorrow, starting at the crack of dawn.

Any person or any group who finds themselves in trouble has to begin somewhere. They have to take a step that will prove to themselves that they are not helpless, that they are capable of accomplishing something, and accomplishing that first thing will build the confidence to move on to the next step.

That’s how people save themselves, how they reconnect with reality-based virtue.

We were once such a people. We were brave, resourceful, generous, and earnest. The last thing we believed was the idea that it was possible to get something for nothing. That we were entitled to a particular outcome in life, apart from the choices we made and how we acted. We can recover those forsaken elements of our collective character. We can be guided, as Abraham Lincoln said, by the better angels of our nature.

We lived in a beautiful country with vibrant towns and cities, and a gorgeous, productive rural landscape, and we were sufficiently rewarded by them so we did feel driven to seek refuge in make-believe all the livelong day. When we wanted to accomplish something we set out to do it, to make it happen, not merely to wish for it. We knew the difference between wishing and doing - which is probably the most important thing that adult human beings can know. I hope we can get back to being that kind of people. This effort here today is a good start.


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EVENTS / MEETINGS...  Events / Meetings...

[ For additional meetings listings, please see our meetings page accessed from our Home Page. - Ed ]

The Bioregional Basis of Urban Sustainability:
How can we begin living sustainably in our own city?

October 6….Join concerned citizens for a day of education, exploration and discussion, when Peter Berg, noted ecologist, author and speaker comes to New Haven to share his vision of ecologically sustainable cities. This is the first in a series of “Keys to a Sustainable New Haven” sponsored by Network for a Sustainable New Haven, Inc. It will be held between 10am and 4pm on Saturday, October 15 in the Jones Auditorium at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Directions can be found at www.caes.state.ct.us.

Headliner, Peter Berg is the founder and director of the Planet Drum Foundation of San Francisco, www.planetdrum.org, and has presented to city groups in North and South America, Asia and Australia. Following his talk there will be a discussion on how to create a sustainable New Haven. Then a lovely and wholesome lunch will be available. In the afternoon, Judy Goldhaft will also present “Water Web,” a lyrical dance/narrative celebrating water and our complex relationship to it. This will be followed by workshop and discussion on mapping and locating ourselves in our bioregion with Peter Berg.

There will be no charge for the morning lecture and discussion, but contributions will be appreciated. The fee for the afternoon mapping workshop is $20, lunch is $10, or $25 for both the mapping workshop and lunch. Scholarships are available for those who need it, call 203-733-9510 for more information on this.

Please pre-register by calling Fred Cervin at 203-389-7711. for more information email: info@sustainablenewhaven.org.

CT NOFA is proud to co-sponsor this event with network for a Sustainable New Haven. CT NOFA is the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, a non-profit educational, membership organization for everyone interested in organic food, gardening, farming or land care. To learn more about CT NOFA, visit the website at www.ctnofa.org.

Bill Duesing, Executive Coordinator
CT NOFA
203 888-5146


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor,

I have been a reader of Destination: Freedom for several years. Your search engine for rail news headlines appears to work very poorly at best, coming up with either “false positives” or articles only incidentally connected to rail, such as ones that mention something is near a railroad, but are not about rail.

For example, my local paper the Raleigh NC News and Observer, is running a 4 part front page feature this week on the TTA commuter rail project (about problems it is having including federal funding, etc.), but it does not appear in your search results. I assume this is happening with important rail articles from other cities also.

Sincerely,
Jeff Adams

The NCI Webmaster replies - The rail news headline page at the NCI web site was set up as an experiment some years ago using one of the first freely available RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeds. While the left-side feed still operates, the source we obtain it from no longer allows us to adjust it – it is locked-in and not replaceable if removed. A somewhat newer feed compliments it to the right but is limited to the source’s choices for “Transportation news”. We see this page as a convenience rather than being the ‘last word’ on rail or transportation headlines. We will review its continued presence at our web site and the way it compliments (or hinders) our presentations. Suggestion / recommendations for alternative, preferably free, RSS feeds that we can customize are welcome to webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King that have appeared in many past editions of Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee. “True color” Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch. Please contact Leo King.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, governor’s offices, and transportation professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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