Boston Globe Spotlight suite of rail stories

December 1, 2015

The Boston Globe Spotlight (Yes, the same one the movie currently in theaters is about.) on Sunday, November 29, 2015 ran a section of stories about railroads. Here is a selection of those stories to choose from:

America’s freight trains are first class

By William C. Vantuono

The United States’ freight rail network is the finest and safest in the world, crisscrossing North America to connect the largest ports up and down the East and West coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. All at an unbeatable cost to taxpayers — nothing. The railroads own, maintain, and pay taxes on their infrastructure.Website Insert Start Here copy

This system, the envy of the world, moves everything from coal to corn to cars at incredible speeds and carries invaluable benefits to both commerce and the environment for the nation. It does, however, come at one striking cost to the public — the quality of passenger rail. For all of our prowess at transporting goods, America has fallen dramatically behind in moving people. But that trade-off could well be worth it.

Chances are that the electricity used to power the things we take for granted is dependent upon the railroads. The Union Pacific and BNSF Railway annually transport billions of tons of coal mined in Wyoming’s Powder River basin for use in power generation plants all across the country.

It’s the same when Americans go to the supermarket. A loaf of bread, a box of cereal, a box of cookies — all of these edible things require some type of flour or grain or wheat to make them. Most of these raw materials move over the rails in covered hopper cars.

Click here to read the full story.

Nostalgia coupled to reality on a transcontinental train

By Alex Kingsbury, Boston Globe Staff

Chicago’s Union station is one of the most dramatic public spaces in the country. The gigantic five-story, barrel-vaulted ceiling rests atop sturdy Corinthian columns, studded with brass lamps grounded on polished marble floors. It is an immense space, curiously free of echoes, and designed for an immense public mission — the movement of the masses.

“Make no little plans — they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized,” Daniel Burnham, the legendary architect behind the travelers’ cathedral in Chicago, as well as Manhattan’s Flatiron Building and Washington’s Union Station, once said. “Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”

An airport or a gas station designed in the 1930s has long ago required renovation and retrofitting, yet century-old train stations remain functional, true to their original purpose, noted historian Tony Judt. Indeed, for the 120,000 travelers who pass through Union Station every day, Burnham’s creation continues to assert itself insistently towards its central aim.

Click here to read the full story.

2016 contenders mixed on rail infrastructure spending

By Nick Osborne

While the Democratic presidential candidates all support infrastructure investment, the future for rail under any of the GOP contenders is murkier. Where the 2016 hopefuls stand on passenger rail (excluding Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, who have done little to address the issue):

Jeb Bush

  • His record: Bush has long opposed rail development, including blocking Florida’s biggest rail project to date over voters’ approval.

  • What he’s said: “People thought it was ‘cool’ to have a really fast train running from Miami to Tampa. . . . No costs were discussed. The higher taxes that are necessary will dramatically change the dynamic.” (Los Angeles Times)

Click here to read the full story.

High-speed service: Not so fast

By James Abundis, Boston Globe Staff

Trains are so popular on the East Coast, they’re giving other modes of transportation a run for their money. Amtrak carries more riders between Boston and New York, for example, than all of the airlines combined. Yet, service on the Boston to D.C. route is far from world class. Amtrak bills its Acela train as “high speed,” but trains on the same route half a century ago made it from South Station to the nation’s capital in far less time. And there are few alternatives: Highways are crowded and airports are as congested as the rail lines. Meanwhile, the US population is expected to swell into “megaregions” by 2050, compounding transportation and commuting needs. What does the future hold for rail in the Northeast?

Click here to read the full story.


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