Greetings from aboard Amtrak’s southbound Palmetto. I left DC 20 minutes late at 10:20 AM this morning, heading to North Carolina to spend ten days with my family at a beach rental house in Emerald Isle. In spite of C-bucket fares still being available as of this morning, the train is quite full heading south. I will detrain at Wilson, NC and catch a dedicated Amtrak Thruway bus (one of two routes started by the state of North Carolina two years ago to enhance public transportation connectivity in the eastern part of the state) to Morehead City, where my father will pick me up. This route — the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac and Atlantic Coast Line — is very familiar to me, but is always enjoyable — running along the banks of the Potomac River, through the center of charming Ashland VA, across the James River and through the farmland, piney woods and swamp of southeast Virginia and eastern North Carolina.

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After a soggy day here in DC on Friday, the weekend turned into a beauty with crisp, fall-like weather. A friend and I spent Sunday afternoon riding bikes from Capitol Hill, DC to the Arts District of Hyattsville, MD and back, using the year-old Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is a key link in the region’s network of off-road bike trails. Before the bike ride, we spent some time researching the various historical permutations of studies and efforts to build political will for aNorth-South Rail Link in Boston. Both domestic (Philadelphia) and international experience show why the link is a no-brainer whose benefits would far outweigh its costs in the long term, and it has been discussed for over a century, but somehow the political will to get it across the finish line has never fully materialized.


What I’m thinking about and writing

The private business car New York Central 3 at Albany-Rensselaer station.

The private business car New York Central 3 at Albany-Rensselaer station. Photo by the author.

I’m very excited about an assignment I just got for Trains Magazine: to do an eight-page deep dive behind the scenes of the business of private passenger railcars. I will look at what it takes to own, maintain and operate a private railcar and to plan, market and manage a public trip on private cars, be it a special train or one or more cars attached to a regularly scheduled passenger train. I already have extensive connections with people in the world of private varnish, and it will be fun to illustrate that the life of a private railcar owner isn’t all glamor, luxury and the pure enjoyment of train travel — far from it — but there is enough that is satisfying about working on or around private cars to keep people committed in spite of how physically and financially punishing the business/hobby is.

Also to come on the pages of Trains under yours truly’s byline is a “Fantrip” column on minor-league ballparks across the country that offer either a unique way to arrive and depart by train or a chance to watch baseball and trains simultaneously. Definitely a fun assignment for this lifelong fan of both trains and baseball.

Additionally in Trains (well, on its blog), I wrote on Friday about how my visit to Connecticut’s Shore Line Trolley Museum on July 23 got me thinking about how this little gem of a transit time capsule could be expanded into an even greater destination experience that could attract more visitors from near and far. While a number of challenges would need to be overcome to expand the museum’s operation, it’s at least worth more in-depth study if the region really wants to lure more tourists by emphasizing its traction-powered past.

Finally, keep an eye out on the Travelers United blog for my piece highlighting transit connections between downtown and the airport in 25 major US metro areas. My aim is to get air travelers to think beyond the default taxi or airport shuttle and discover a way to get to and from the airport that is less expensive, takes about the same amount of time, and is often just as convenient, not to mention more environmentally friendly. In all the air trips I’ve taken, I’ve as often arrived at or left from the airport in a bus, train or destination shuttle than in a car. My post should go live within the next five days.


What I’m Reading

  • Throat of NY Penn StationFederally-mandated Positive Train Control technology is a complex subject. If implemented properly, should prove life-saving. But it is not without its downsides. One of which is that it gives dispatchers less freedom to closely space trains, which will become particularly evident at America’s busiest station. (Of course, railroads are treating the mandate as a burden and not an opportunity to maximize PTC’s business benefits, but that’s another story.)
  • A coulee of more significant enhancements to the national passenger train network were unveiled in the past two weeks. The reservations portion of Amtrak’s website was revamped to make it easier to reserve spaces for bicycles and pets on trains and see how many spaces are available. And a new bus-train connection was added, linking the sizable college town of Corvallis, OR with the Amtrak station in Albany, just over 11 miles away.
  • Eurostar, the high-speed rail corridor between London, Paris and Brussels, unveiled the world’s first opportunity to experience virtual reality on board a train, turning the 20 minutes spent in the English Channel Tunnel into a marine safari.
  • Finally, a little British humor. In light of the successful reintroduction of beavers (my favorite animal) to Scotland after a four-century absence, folks in southern England are hoping to bring back another “endangered species.”

Where I’m Going Next

Beach at Emerald Isle, NC

Beach at Emerald Isle, NC

After hanging with the family in Emerald Isle until August 12, I’ll return to DC for a couple of days before making a three-day visit to New York City with my mother. After that, two days back home before I leave on Aug. 20 for an epic three-week odyssey to view the solar eclipse in New Jersey, visit a friend in southern California, and explore the Canadian Rockies with friends from the Pacific Northwest. After returning to DC on Sept. 7, I head back down to Greensboro the next day for the National Folk Festival, the third and final year in a row that my old hometown has played host to this national showcase for all my favorite kinds of American vernacular music.

A Musical Sendoff

I’ve decided to close this and future newsletters with a link to a song that I’d like to share with you. To begin, in recognition of my slogan, “Putting you on the write track,” here’s one from Brother Ray.

Take care and best wishes,

Malcolm