Monday, May 20, 2013
In the Name of Progress.Posted Friday, May 25, 2012, at 11:12 PM
Our country is known for its progressiveness. We have birthed some of the greatest inventors in the world's history. This is a wonderful and amazing accomplishment. Our country is just over two hundred years old and yet we stand at the top of the list in so many fields.
However, we have also become complacent. We just can't sit back on our butts and tell the world, "Look at us. Look what we've done." We need to keep on driving, exploring, and educating.
But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bath water. One of the attitudes that drive me crazy is the notion that just because it's new, it must be better. I know that I may have contradicted myself in this last paragraph, but be patient and I'll explain.
There are certain services in our country that need to be continued even though they may be as many as two centuries old. That's right, I'm back to talking about our National Post Office system. Computers can't replace our mail. Yes, we can send messages quickly with electronic mail, but we still need the "snail mail" to send packages, certified letters, contracts with notary stamps, etc.
Back in the late 1950s, super highways were being built all over this country. Gasoline sold for twenty cents a gallon. Those who controlled progress in this country decided that railroads were passť. Surprisingly, some of the "controllers" were the railroad owners! So, the railroads ignored the upkeep of their equipment, thus the passenger business declined. The big trucking companies and their powerful unions, on the other hand, pushed for merchandise and products to be sent all over the country by big gas guzzling eighteen wheelers because fuel was cheap.
Everyone agreed that this was progress. So, many of the smaller railroads were thrown out with their rails, the "rights of way" and road beds. City railroad depots were torn down or turned into museums. The larger rail systems combined their companies, and in October of 1970, the Rail Passenger Service Act (RPSA) was passed by congress and President Nixon signed it into law. This was progress.
With the passage of RPSA, Amtrak (a private company), was born. Many of the owners of the old railroad companies were on the new Amtrak board of directors. Amtrak began full operation on May 1, 1971. What was left of passenger service was "streamlined" (gutted) by Amtrak which touted their service as an improvement in cost, comfort and time. Today, passenger service is now somewhat limited to large city destinations and expensive for what you get. These days, the public considers it to be an oddity to travel the rails. It might even be something you treat your grandchildren to; train rides so they can understand our historical past. There are also only a few freight operations that still exist and their engines pull miles of cars. I bet my dad plus both my grandfathers (career railroad men who all worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad), are spinning in their graves.
Low and behold, by the end of our first decade in the twenty first century, the progress controllers have finally admitted we need light rail passenger systems for our crowded cities. We also need more freight trains, and cross country passenger travel, again. They've seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it is empty gas pumps.
This should be a lesson to our government that throwing out tried and true methods doesn't always work out so well. Europe didn't abandon their rail system when they built big highways for trucks and buses. If you ask an American traveler what they enjoyed about travel in Europe, they will often mention the trains.
So, I hope the government remembers about the trashing of our railroad system. I hope they consider what it will cost to win back the rights of way, dig new beds, lay new track, create new rolling stock and build depots.
Then, I hope they will mull over all these hasty past decisions before they decide, in the name of progress, to "streamline" our national Post Office system.
In a Twist
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I'm Enid. No, not the town in Oklahoma, but a transplant to Eureka Springs from Minneapolis fourteen years ago. I'm a writer, journalist and sometime artist. My real love is expressing my opinions on almost any subject, as you have seen in my many letters to the Editor of The Lovely County Citizen over the years. Now, I'm happy to say that I will be writing a blog titled In a Twist for your amusement, amazement or commiseration. Thanks for giving me a read.