Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Minnesota Rep in Congress Wants to Kill Amtrak

One of Minnesota’s elected members of Congress, Republican Michelle Bachmann, is an idiot.

I am perfectly willing to treat with consideration and respect thoughtful politicians with whom I have an honest difference of opinion.

But not Michelle Bachmann. Because she is an idiot. The litany of irrational and just-plain-crazy statements this woman has made is almost endless. Lest you have any doubt, look her up and peruse her record at any responsible non-partisan source.

And now Bachmann has submitted an amendment to a funding bill that would eliminate Amtrak's capital and debt service grant for next year. Translation: It would kill Amtrak within a matter of months.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak’s president, Joe Boardman, says Bachmann’s amendment “would deny intercity passenger rail service to 29 million people in over 500 communities in 46 states.”

Ross Capon, President and CEO of NARP, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, says Bachmann’s amendment would mean that Amtrak could not make it’s debt service payments and that “would enable lenders to repossess about 3/4 of Amtrak’s rolling stock.”

Capon adds, “Elimination of the capital budget would set the railroad on a quick death spiral.”

Bachmann is one of the “leaders” of the Tea Party movement.

She is an idiot.

Postscript: By an ironic coincidence, one of the better manufacturers of model train sets is -- are you ready? -- Bachmann Trains! No relation, I would guess.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Some Things Just Make Absolutely No Sense.

I’m in Seattle now, to see three games between the Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners and to enjoy this marvelous city (as long as it’s not raining, which, according to the locals, narrows things down to June, July and August).

In contrast to the dismal experience that is the Oakland Coliseum, Safeco Field where the Mariner’s play is a delight for the fans. (By the way, the railroad tracks run right behind the exterior right-centerfield walls of Safeco Field. You hear train whistles throughout the games.) That said, there is nothing that can compare to the overall experience of seeing the Red Sox play at home in Fenway Park.

Friday night's game was a good one – the Sox winning a 2-1 squeaker – but I must relate something about the guy sitting next to me. First of all, he was big, at least 300 pounds, and I had to twist in my seat to accommodate his overlap into my space.

But tell me: Why would someone who paid $65 for a very good seat spend most of the time staring at a cell phone in his lap, sending and receiving text messages? Every so often, usually triggered by a loud crowd reaction, this oaf would look up, scan the field, then turn to his friend and say, “What happened?”

I admit to having no personal knowledge of the texting phenomenon because I don't do it and never intend to do it. But it certainly appears to me that 99 percent of the messages flying back and forth through the ozone have little or no real importance. One more useless – not to mention, expensive - activity that seems to have become essential to today’s generation.

Jeez … I’m sounding like my dad, who was equally scornful when I bought the latest and greatest electronic extravagance back in my day: a hi-fi set.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This Museum Belongs on Your Must-See List

The past Tuesday, with the Red Sox-A’s game at night, I took Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service up to Sacramento for a second visit to the California State Railroad Museum. It’s a pleasant two-hour ride, so I had time to catch a 7:45 train, spend a couple of hours wandering around the museum and through Old Sacramento, and get back to Oakland in time to relax for a few hours before catching BART and heading out to the game.

There are beautifully restored locomotives – this huge cab-forward model was used to haul trains over the Sierras for years – and a fascinating selection of old rail cars, with well-informed docents there to explain things as you tour the facility.

In addition to the locomotives and cars, you can get a lot of history about train travel in California and, in particular, about the building of the trans-continental railroad … entirely understandable since work started in Sacramento.

The museum is an absolute must, even if you are just casually interested in train travel

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Baseball and Train Travel: the Best of Both Worlds

I'll be away from home for the next eight days. First stop: Oakland, California, to see the Red Sox and the A's in three games. Then overnight on Amtrak's Coast Starlight to Seattle for three more games, this time with the Mariners. I'll try to post once or twice along the way and will provide some photos and an account of the overnight ride from Oakland to Seattle upon my return.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How High the Moon?

I have no idea where or how – let alone why – the tradition started, but on the 2nd Saturday of July, a lot of people in Southern California head for the nearest main line to moon passing Amtrak trains.

California has taken this goofy idea to a scale unimagined anywhere else, but it’s by no means confined to that area of the country. The westbound California Zephyr runs along the Colorado River for several hours after leaving Denver and rafters have taken great delight in mooning the passing train for years.

One thing for sure: It’s a terrible idea for stuffy public officials to try and stop it. Last year, local officials at one of the suburban towns near LA loudly proclaimed that those participating in this behavior would be subject to arrest. That, of course, prompted the biggest turnout since this daffy event began.

No Harm, No Foul is probably the only practical approach.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Voice of God Is Stilled

The attempt to manufacture excitement is an unfortunate trend in major league baseball. In big league ballparks, monstrous electronic scoreboards suddenly light up and instruct fans to


as though we're all a bunch or morons with no clue as to what's happening on the field. In many ballparks, especially in Anaheim, ovine fans do as they’re told and begin clapping, while looking around to figure out why. There's none of that insulting nonsense at Fenway Park in Boston. Red Sox fans would rebel if the team’s management ever tried it.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I can rarely find anything good to say about the New York Yankees. Today, however, I must give them credit for having the good sense to keep Bob Sheppard as their public address announcer for a great many years. Sheppard died yesterday at the age of 99 and had been the Yankees’ P.A. announcer for more than 55 years.

To his everlasting credit, Bob Sheppard refused to perform as a Yankee cheerleader. Most of his colleagues in other big league ballparks around the country introduce home team players with a feverish excitement regardless of the circumstance of the moment, bellowing out the name as though Babe Ruth himself had come back from the grave and was stepping to the plate. (The San Francisco Giants employ a female P.A. announcer and her high-pitched screeching is literally painful.)

Not Bob Sheppard. He introduced both Yankee and visiting players in a dignified tone, and with a deep resonant voice that earned him the sobriquet, The Voice of God. Many a ball player has said he never really felt he’d made it to “the show” until Bob Sheppard spoke his name and he heard it echoing throughout Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox public address announcer, Carl Beane, is also of the Bob Sheppard School of Announcing: you enunciate the name carefully, speaking clearly and calmly … then you shut up.

But Bob Sheppard was the best of them all, and he will be missed by generations of baseball fans. Yes, even by Red Sox fans.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Amtrak Takes Steps to Deal With the Heat Wave

It’s no secret that there is a heat wave blanketing much of the country and, in particular, the East Coast. Unusually hot weather can cause real problems for a railroad. Locomotives can overheat and breakdown and when that happens, a passenger train’s air conditioning system goes down, too. That can be a real problem with a couple of hundred passengers on board.

Heat kinks, another problem attributable to unusually hot weather, can literally bend steel rails out of shape and occasionally cause derailments.

Amtrak has taken steps to deal with any possible problems by locating rescue locomotives at regular intervals along most of their routes. Track speeds have also been reduced. For instance, trains running south of New York City, which normally operate up to 110 miles an hour, are being restricted to a maximum of 70 mph. Other trains operating more to the west have had their maximum speeds reduced from 70 to 50 mph.

There will be, of course, a corresponding impact on schedules, so if you’re going to be traveling by train along the Eastern Seaboard, better check with Amtrak about arrival and departure times.