Car-Free in DC

November 25, 2013

Trains for the Future

Filed under: Uncategorized — dccitizen @ 12:52 am
Painting by J. Craig Thorpe, 2001
Thorpe Hudson River
Trains for the Future
by Malcolm Kenton

This and Ballad of the North American Beaver are my first attempts at writing ballads in the great American folk ballad tradition inspired by Woody Guthrie. These do not adhere strictly to a certain meter or number of syllables per line, so modification will likely be required to set them to music. Anyone who wishes to is encouraged to modify these verses and set them to music, with proper attribution to me as original author.  I offer links embedded in these verses to provide background, inform and educate.
“Seattle Streetcar,” by Flickr user Sean Marshall.
Seattle streetcar

Can’t you hear it comin’; can’t you hear the roar?
A force that shaped the continent like nothing had before,
Connecting cities, towns and countryside o’er mountains, rivers and dales,
America has always moved to the rhythm of the rails.

Those bands of steel, moving people and goods, did the country unite.
By annihilating distance, the railroads built the nation’s might.
They moved the fuel and materials, and took people far and wide.
Each station a hub of commerce, a common gathering place, and a point of civic pride.

Let’s not forget the multitudes without whose muscle the trains could never have turned a wheel.
Who laid track, built bridges, dug tunnels, mined coal and forged and shaped iron and steel.
Who ran the trains and served the passengers and moved heavy goods en masse.
Whose struggles built mighty unions that made possible the middle class.

Around each station grew communities made up of walkable streets,
And for longer ways most people rode in bus or streetcar seats.
network of rail-based mobility that could take one near or far
Thrived upon this continent ’till the dawning of the age of the car.

The greed of the railroad barons made many farmers and merchants upset.
Together with motorists’ and cyclists’ leagues a big goal they did set.
They gathered in the capitols to press for public roads
So they no longer had to rely on big railroads to move their many loads.

While the Feds and states doled money for roads, the railroads still were taxed.
Unable to charge competitive rates, many rail lines were axed.
Emboldened auto, rubber and oil tycoons bought out the streetcar and interurban lines,
Tore up the tracks, scrapped the cars, and instilled their own designs.

Even with government paying for the roads, truckers could not abate
The railroads’ superior efficiency in hauling high-volume freight.
But though they kept serving passengers at thousands of stops and moved the troops to war,
The trains could not make money moving people anymore.

Then Eisenhower had a vision that many thought was great:
A new Motor Age of swift driving upon the Interstate.
In the decades hence, four-lane expressways and airports were built, largely on the public dime.
Though railroads fought to win riders back they struggled to make up lost time.

In the Sixties it seemed to most that the passenger train’s days were done.
Whilst many shed a wistful tear, many a great train made its final run.
But thanks to some foresighted lawmakers who saw potential on the rail,
Amtrak proved wrong a throng of observers who expected it to fail.

But as high gas pricescongestion and pollution began to plague many a place,
Some returned to the rails, though the skeletal system was a disgrace.
Through small investments of capital, some new equipment to Amtrak and other lines would belong.
But Congress would usually only spare Amtrak just enough to limp along.

In the absence of federal leadership, some states and locals took the lead.
With visions of revitalized Main Streets and the throngs who “All Aboard!” would heed.
In Illinois and CaliforniaNorth Carolina and up in Maine,
They proved to all who doubted that Americans would choose to ride a train.

But when the states sought help from Washington, the answer they got was “nope,”
Till to the White House came Obama with a message of change and hope.
He and Biden pushed through the Recovery Act so the government would not turn its back,
And under Ray LaHood the feds helped states and Amtrak fix up stations and trains and rebuild track.

Now as the cost of flying and driving grows, it’s becoming quite clear to me
That America must have more modern trains to thrive in the Twenty-First Century.
The Millennial Generation is changing how it moves
By driving less, walking and biking more and turning to trains and transit in droves.

People are moving back to cities and close-in suburbs where they ride a train or streetcar every day,
Saving money, cutting their eco-footprints and staying connected along the way,
And longer-distance train travel is slowly coming back into demand,
Offering a relaxing, communal journey that brings people closer to the land.

But still in many places, travelers don’t have trains to choose.
It’s either go by air, get a tiny seat, pay a lot and be forced to remove your shoes,
Or take long drives on crowded and dangerous highways that leave you feeling in the dumps,
And have to pay an arm and a leg upon each visit to the pumps.

And that’s why people are starting to rise up and make a forceful call
For safe, fast, reliable and affordable travel choices for one and all.
Folks should call upon their Senators, Congressmen, state legislators, mayors, et al, and upon this theme harp,
And take a stand for transportation sanity by joining groups like NARP.

It’s up to us to save fuel, restore the land and bring our emissions down,
While bringing good-paying jobs and renewed vitality to many a city, village and town.
Let’s base our modern travel network upon a mode that seldom fails;
It’s time our country hums along again to the rhythm of the rails!

So All Aboard for prosperity
All Aboard everywhere
All Aboard for safe, swift mobility
and All Aboard for cleaner air
Let’s enjoy each other’s company,
And while riding together sing glad refrains.
While rolling through cityscapes, forests, deserts, mountains and plains
On our world-class network of modern passenger trains!


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