Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Mystery train

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Gone Dead Train. Photo

(Click to see original context.)

While half the world stayed up all night anxiously glued to their TV sets and the other half partied, I slept soundly, oblivious to all. Now don’t be alarmed, Behind The Water Tower is not going into wade into the murky waters of party politics. We are strictly non-partisan here. But on the other hand, much as I would have personally liked to have headed today’s post with a picture from a recently rediscovered cache of Polish narrow gauge railway photographs, it seems somewhat churlish to ignore recent events across the pond altogether. So as a compromise, I’ve decided to post an anthology of extracts from the latest posts by some fellow bloggers across the political spectrum. Just please don’t run away with the idea that I agree with everything that these people post in their blogs!

Caroline’s Blog

(The blog of Caroline Lucas, MEP, The leader of the Green Party.)

“changing the soul of man”…

An interesting title, but on closer inspection her post is about taking part in a BBC World Service debate about capitalism and the environment. Clearly Caroline thinks that whoever sits in the White House is totally irrelevant to the USA’s carbon footprint. The frightening thing is that she may just be right.


UK TOP SECRET Postman Patel

(The blog of Baron Patel, FMedSci, FRSE)

” Railway Property has been found very valuable since 1845.In many cases shares have doubled in their nominal value in a few days and often afterwards fallen as rapidly.”

A Million of Facts. Ward Lock. London 1850 by Sir Richard Phillips

I was delighted to see that my friend, Lord Patel, is returning to his family’s railway roots. The new strapline is much more tasteful than his earlier quote from The Unabomber Manifesto. But what’s this, his last post is about a programme on the BBC World Service! What is it about these guys? Is it something that’s been added to the tapwater or what?


And another thing…

(The blog of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, former Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport, responsible for Britain’s railways.)

Gosh, not one, but six posts praising Obama’s victory. I’ll just quote selectively from the first of of them.

I was wrong. Phew!

WELCOME to the Oval Office, President Obama.

So, I was wrong. You can hardly blame me for being pessimistic.

Amazing. Astonishing. Quite genuinely, tonight has restored my faith in the good sense and judgement of the American people.

Obama has rewritten the rules of American politics, and this is a very exciting time for the world.

Our Tom does get rather emotional. His lament on Ruth Kelly’s departure from the post of Secretary of State for Transport cost him his job.



(The blog of Iain Dale, one of Britain’s right wing political commentators. He was the host of Britain’s first political internet TV channel, 18 Doughty

Three pithy posts from Iain: the first, a brief invitation for comments when he retired to bed as soon as the result was known; the second, an analysis of the boundary of possibilities within which Obama will have to work; (See below for a sample.) the third, an analysis of BBC TV’s election night coverage.

A lot of Democrats will be expecting radical things from President Obama. I suspect they will be disappointed, at least initially. He may have campaigned on the slogan of ‘change’ but I suspect he will be far more conservative that many of his most enthusiastic supporters expect. He won’t want to rock the boat too much until he has proved his competence to the nation. There may be one or two headline announcements in the first 100 days, but from a military point of view I am not sure much will change initially.


Peston’s Picks

(The blog of Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor)

In a post called “Obama shackled by debt” Peston reviews Obama’s campaign slogans:

a) a windfall tax on the “excess” profits of oil companies;

b) a redistributive tax cut for those on middle and low incomes, funded by a claw back of tax cuts received by the wealthiest 2% during President Bush’s two terms;

c) serious public spending on roads, bridges, transport and infrastructure;

d) subventions for renewable energy and for the development of green technologies, especially in the automotive industry…

And then there’s the cold wind of political reality:

Because Obama may turn out to be less red in the practice of his presidency than his words and aspirations would imply.

For example, on that windfall tax – which much of the Labour Party would love to see imitated here – there’s already been a strong hint from Obama’s advisers that it’s on hold, following the collapse in the oil price.


Christian Wolmar

(The blog of Christian Wolmar, Britain’s leading rail pundit)

At last a mention of both BTWT’s keywords ‘environment’ and ‘transport’.

But what will he mean for the environment and transport? I suspect he will send out the same mixed message that Brown has done. He will talk Green but at the same time support low gas prices and do nothing to try to wean Americans out of their cars. Already during the hustings, he began to falter, for example, over the issue of drilling in Alaska. He may well throw a bit more money at Amtrak and possibly help finance light rail schemes in urban areas, but I doubt that he will really take on the issue of climate change. He cannot, however, be worse than Bush and the most positive aspect is that he is an intelligent man not in hock to crazy fundamentalists. He will, at least, accept that climate change is happening and needs to be tackled. The real test is what will he do about it?


Behind The Water Tower

So what do I think? Well by complete coincidence I watched an episode of The Prisoner as America went to the polls. It was the one where ‘No. 6’ is persuaded to take part in the election for the post of ‘No. 2’. Very apt I thought.

Do you remember the heady days in the 1950s and 60s when rail travel was affordable and British Railways ran ‘Mystery Excursions’ to the seaside? You never quite knew where you would end up, and sometimes the locomotive hauling the train was a nice surprise, but the possibilities of where you were going to were somewhat constrained by the train’s starting point, its time of departure, its return time and the fact that you were promised six hours at the seaside.

In a similar manner, political leaders in much of the West (and this certainly includes Poland, the UK and the USA) are constrained by the people who fund their campaigns; by the treatment that they receive from the mass media and the financiers who control their economic policies. No wonder they always arrive at the same familiar destinations!

So now you know. Tomorrow we return to railways, and that’s a promise!


Bobby Kennedy’s Funeral Train

Sunday, 8 June 2008

On June 8 1968, the 21 car funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy left New York City for Washington, DC. The train was led by GG1 4901 with 4903 trailing, and ended with Penn Central open-platform business car number 120 carrying the body of the late Senator.

A three car pilot train pulled by GG1 4932 ran ahead of the funeral train and GG1s 4900 and 4910 followed light as back-up motive power.

At Elizabeth, NJ, the crowd moved onto the tracks to get a view of the special train, just as “The Admiral”, heading to New York City from Chicago, was rounding a curve. “The Admiral’s” GG1 sounded its horn, but some of the people in the crowd did not clear the track in time and sadly two were killed and four seriously injured.

After the tragic accident the Penn Central ordered all train movement stopped until the special train passed. The funeral train arrived in Washington’s Union Station four hours behind schedule and had caused disruption to the entire railroad.

(source: Steam Locomotive dot Com)

(source: Robert F Kennedy, A Tribute)

More information:

First US transcontinental 149th birthday

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 1869

Lord Patel’s Eco Postman Patel blog deals with UK politics and geopolitics with the same degree of forelock tugging respect that Dyspozytor affords British and Polish politicians and senior railway managers. We didn’t see Lord Patel on our radar as someone interested in railways, so it was interesting to read his article about the days when the USA ‘rail lobby’ was as powerful as the banking, military and oil lobbies are today.

On May 10, 1869, two railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, joined 1,776 miles of transcontinental railway at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, in the Golden Spike Ceremony in what was extravagantly called “the wedding of the rails”.

Not only was this the summit of railway engineering achievement at the time it was also the first major Press / Public relations event designed with much hoopla to drum up both business but also shareholders and investors in what was a massive financial gamble.

It was the result of far seeing men and the plans outlined in Mr. J. J. Warner’s Report on Railroads to the Senate of California in early 1851 in which he stated:

that a Railroad, from some point on the Mississippi, or its tributaries, to some point on the bay of San Francisco, is the best route that can be adopted for the purpose of securing the Commerce of China and India; … to open a great national highway from California to the Atlantic coast, [and] would be a greater defence and protection than all other military works. It would also be the means of great daily intercourse between the East and West coast of this Republic, … to prevent those sectional feelings which have ever been the destruction of wide-extended governments. …[I]t is the duty of this Legislature to encourage the speedy building of a Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the territory of the United States.”

Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, hoping to bind the Union’s East and West. The Pacific Railway Act gave each company loans from the Treasury of $16,000 for each mile of track laid in the flat plains, $32,000 for each mile of track laid in the Great Basin, and $48,000 for each mile of track laid in the mountains. It also provided for each company to receive 10 sections (6,400 acres) of public land grants, mineral rights excluded, on each side of the track for each mile of track built. – which is what excited the investors.

It united a nation (although a favoured more Southern route was ignored)and laid the foundations of east West trade which had previously been dominated by North / South river trading.

Theodore Dehone Judah was the chief engineer, lobbyist, railroader, and surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad. He was born in 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and lived until 1863, dying in New York from yellow fever contracted during a visit to Panama, without seeing the completion of his dream, the first transcontinental railroad. Today is National Train Day in the US – Across the country, people are riding trains in record numbers. Amtrak reports 25.8 million passengers during fiscal year 2007, the most since the train system began operating in 1971

Age of Betrayal – The Triumph of Money

UPDATE : Useful introduction to the expansion of the railroads , the money made, the corruption and the characters who forged the basis of American capitalism are covered in Jack Beatty’s recently published Age of Betrayal– The Triumph of Money in America 1865 – 1900. Knopf . ISBN 97814000402855 Amazon

“Politicians in cahoots with railway executives made it simple. “Of the seventy-three men who held cabinet posts between 1868 and 1896,” Beatty calculates, “forty-eight either served railroad clients, lobbied for railroads, sat on railroad boards, or had railroad-connected relatives.” Plus ca change.

The above is only a part of a much longer article which can be read on its entirety on the Postman Patel blog here:

More infirmation and photographs are available at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum: