Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service
by James McCommons
Just like 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live, I got this book for free, except that I got this book at the library.
The book is a good summary of the current state of intercity rail in this country. James McCommons subtitles his book “A Year Spent Riding Across America”, and he did in fact ride on much of Amtrak’s rail network. The book is full of snapshots of the people who ride the train which makes it a kind of snapshot of America. Because really almost every kind of person takes the train.
Mr. McCommons introduces his readers to the major players in passenger rail in this country as well as some representatives of the major freight companies. This group of people is considerably less diverse than the passengers who take the train which I think is a barrier to communicating why trains make sense. It is stunning the number of people who came into the industry with absolutely no experience or relevant education at all.
Each section of the book examines the state of intercity rail in a particular region along with the challenges that the region will face in improving rail. Each short chapter focuses on a particular place or on an individual rail line. This outline allows the book to mix interviews, financial data and the snapshots of riders in a coherent fashion. I particularly appreciated the numbers. Books, websites, and articles on transportation in the US have a tendency to be math-free, like the choices we make don’t cost anything.
Of course, they do. Rail can transport people for much less than cars, using less space. Much less space if that rail is linked to buses. For example, establishing passenger service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge (which currently does not exist) would cost a grand total of $110 million. That includes the costs necessary to get the line running, and three years’ operating budget. Widening interstate I-10 would cost in the billions.
There are a lot of really good ideas out there, even more than got into this book. Waiting on a Train is a good place to start looking for them.