What’s on my mind

When I sat down yesterday to write my first ‘Write Track’ update in over a year, the words that spilled onto the page vented my frustration at my perception that movement towards positive transformation and expansion in passenger rail and transit — as with so many other important causes — was hitting a wall of resistance, with needed federal policy change a seeming impossibility in this bitter political environment.

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A Bricktown-bound Oklahoma City Streetcar passes under the BNSF Railway bridge atop which Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer boards passengers before departing for Fort Worth. Photo by Malcolm Kenton.

I’m still frustrated by the state of American politics and disgusted with the leadership of one party in particular. Change in federal policy is still ultimately necessary to unlock the rail mode’s true potential in America and to make more livable, walkable communities possible. But instead of despairing that prospects for large-scale progress seem dimmer than ever, I think it best to refocus my energy on a smaller, more incremental scale where meaningful change may more readily be achieved. The question I am now asking, which I hope will start a dialogue that could lead to collaborative work on exciting projects, is:

“What are some ways for transit- and sustainable transportation-minded transportation professionals and like-minded active citizens who aren’t in positions of power (political, corporate or otherwise) to play some small part in reshaping the transportation and development landscape for a smarter, healthier, safer and greener 21st century?”

Some good things are happening on local and regional scales in the world of passenger rail. I’m excited about the recent and upcoming new starts and expansions in commuter/regional rail and light rail/streetcar, though worried that these are slowing down with federal funding being much less reliable than it was under the Obama Administration. On the intercity side, the growth of Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline), the ongoing construction of California High Speed Rail, and the soon-to-start construction of the Texas Central high speed railway are all reasons for optimism, along with Amtrak’s announced commitment to begin the process of replacing and augmenting its aged fleet.

I’m also heartened, and was reminded in conversations taking place during last week’s Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting and TransportationCamp in DC, that many transportation thought leaders, particularly in my generation, have good ideas and view current problems through the right analytical framework. It just seems like the people with the best ideas are not in positions of power to be able to implement them. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the old guard gives way to those with a fresh vision.

Plenary session at TransportationCamp DC 2019, held at the Catholic University of America’s Pryzbala Center. Photo by Malcolm Kenton.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to the question I raised, and to learn about any exciting or unique endeavors you are involved with, especially if you may need assistance in writing, research or communications — even if it’s not directly related to transportation. Feel free to reply to this email or comment on this post on my website (see “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this page) to keep the conversation going.


What I’ve written

  • I chime in on the ongoing discussion between Amtrak’s current management and their detractors taking place primarily on Railway Age’s website, and express a wish for change in the new year, in the Trains Magazine Observation Tower blog.
  • I review a condensed mid-December trip by train and rental car to West Texas’s Big Bend region and to El Paso, also in Observation Tower.
  • In my first (uncredited) byline for the ‘Musings’ blog of Toronto-based transit consultancy Left Turn Right Turn Ltd., I provide a review of transit service planning and operations terminology.
  • Since February 2018, I have been the coordinator of the section of monthly online newsmagazine Canadian Railway Observations dealing with VIA Rail Canada. I write a “Chairman’s Corner” introduction to each month’s VIA section (paid subscription required — only about $15 USD per year ($20 CAD)).
  • Also, starting in the March 2019 issue, I will be the compiler of the CSX News section of monthly magazine Railfan & Railroad (paid subscription required).

A friendly reminder

I am here to help put more railroads, companies, agencies, cities and region on the write track with seasoned research, writing and multimedia communications talent as well as subject matter expertise in transportation, railroading and public policymaking. If you like what I do and know of someone who might benefit from my knowledge and services, please feel free to forward this email to them and ask them to check out my website, www.malcolmkenton.info. Thanks for helping me become better known in the field.


Where I’m Going Next

Verde Canyon Railroad - MRP 2018-29
A Verde Canyon Railroad train in April 2018. Photo by Verde Canyon Railroad on Flickr.

My next planned major trip will take me away for four weeks. I’ll first be in the Phoenix, AZ area for five days with my aunt and extended family, which will include my first trip on the Verde Canyon Railroad near Sedona on Feb. 27. Then I’m going to Hawaii for my first time (my 48th state visited), where I’ll spend a week on Maui and five days on Oahu. The only railroad I’ll be able to fit in is the Hawaiian Railway Society‘s Sunday excursion out of Ewa Beach on Oahu, which I’ll ride on March 10. Then I’ll fly to Vancouver, BC to join the Moonlighters for my fourth annual full moon-lit winter journey across half the continent on North America’s last great streamliner, VIA Rail’s Canadian (leaving Vancouver on March 15.) After a night in Toronto, I’ll fly home.

Further down the line, you’ll see me at the Rail Passengers Association‘s Spring Advocacy Summit in DC (April 1-3) and at its RailNation California fall conference in Sacramento, CA (Oct. 18-21). You may also see me at the APTA Rail Conference in Toronto (June 23-26) or at Rail~Volution in Vancouver, BC (Sept. 8-11). I also have an early May trip to the Bay Area planned with my mother, who works at an Apple Store and will be visiting Apple Park in Cupertino. Then, late May will take my father and me west on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Southwest Chief to visit a friend of my father’s in Taos, NM, followed by a cousin’s wedding in Tucson, AZ on Memorial Day weekend.


A Musical Sendoff

A nice tune by contemporary folk artist Kimmie Rhodes to get you in the mood for a train trip.

Take care and best wishes,

Malcolm