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All photos by Ron Goodenow. Reproduction without Ron's permission is prohibited.

Back to the UK. May 2004. A Silver Link class 321 Electric Multiple Unit, built about 15 years ago, is arriving in Milton Keynes Central on its way from Northampton to London Euston and intermediate commuter stops on the West Coast Main Line from Glasgow to London, with branches off to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities. This extremely busy bit of the British rail system is similar to the Northeast Corridor in the US, where there's an expanding mixture of high speed expresses and local trains, the result often being congestion and delay. There's a lesson here for Amtrak's Board of Directors, which in the dead of night decided to sell off the Northeast Corridor and depend on state agencies, several transit lines and Amtrak to keep operations smooth and growing. That lesson, taken from many years of UK privatization, is that without a carefully negotiated set of standards and operational procedures, a clear commitment for funding and investment, national oversight and strong public support, the result can be years of floundering and cynicism -- even as patronage increases thanks to high gas prices and many incentives to get people out of their cars. The British learned the hard way, what with multiple fatal accidents, delayed infrastructure development, scandal, and distracting reorganizations. We hope that Congress takes a good look at this experience and issues a resounding 'no' to yet another attempt to fragment and destroy what's left of America's intercity rail system.


In 2000 I took a Silver Service train to Orlando, and thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the trip, including dinner in the diner in this photo. Now we all know that 'nothing can be finer....than dinner in the diner' as a way of selecting Amtrak for a long-distance trip. Well, excuse me, but the bean counters who would pave the country over at taxpayer expense don't understand that and so among the loonier tunes coming from politicians who have blown national resources on farm subsidies, highways to nowhere, tax breaks for the rich and an unpopular war, have decided that folks can just bring along their own picnic lunches if they want to ride across country. That may work on Jet Blue, but the recently upgraded Empire Builder, or soon to be upgraded California Zephyr for days at a time????? Sure, Amtrak, which does serve good food in its diners, may decide, as it is doing on some New York state services, to invite Subway or Burger King to experimentally provide sandwiches and cokes in money-losing snack cars, but will it persuade a good restaurant chain to improve on its dining cars? Not while the wrecking crews in Washington talk about eliminating trains, wrap everything in micromanaged red tape and poor mouth anything that carries people on steel wheels.




Here's a   Deutsche Bahn (DB)  InterCity Express (ICE) train photographed near the huge Ostbahnhof station in the former East Berlin in September, 2003.  Swift, elegant, comfortable and loaded with good food and drink these modern trains criss-cross the rapidly growing German rail system and are extremely popular.  Germany, like many European and Asian countries is making vast investments in intercity rail even as it struggles with issues of privatization and the inevitable problems surroundling lack of profitability in a national economy that is sluggish at best. Problems notwithstanding, it is inconceivable that DB would leave thousands of passengers stranded without food, clean toilets, and information for almost 24 hours as did the post-David Gunn Amtrak in late 2005.  America, once a leader in railway technology and innovation, has fallen far behind, but would do well to study not only this growth in investment, but concepts of customer service and reliability that have set up residence beyond our shores. In a time of high energy costs and threatened supplies many countries are depending on rail and, as the success of the ICE shows, can even give discount airlines more than a run for their money.




Page created by: Craig O'Connell
Changes last made on: January 5, 2006.



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