National Rail Networks :: A Look Back in Time
The world’s first national rail networks were constructed in Britain, with the first inter-city line connecting the industrial midland city Manchester with the port of Liverpool in 1830.
So, are you wondering, which country forged a national rail network next? France? Sweden, the United States?
It was Egypt. The Egyptian rail system connected ports on the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. Egypt’s rolling stock is still on track. A recent issue of Future Rail magazine reports on Egypt’s recent purchase of 1,300 new carriages.
In the 21st century some countries like the United States of America are not keeping up a commitment to passenger rail systems.
That’s a shame because rail travel offers faster, more efficient and ecologically favorable long distance travel than commercial airlines or private vehicles. Assuming, of course, the nation-state or region maintains and supports its railway systems.
A close look at an inventory of Amtrak rolling stock looks like an old used carriage auction block. Check out the fancy Amtrak advertising videos promising sleek, fast locomotives in the northeast corridor of the country, the most reliable profit center. Don’t wait in line or online for a ticket because it’s fantasy at this point. Why aren’t the U.S. leaders embarrassed by their poor showing compared to the lightning speed trains of Japan, France, Germany and other European countries?
Back in the mists of time, the northern states of the U.S. had established a robust network of rail lines that connected with existing waterway transport and ports before the American Civil War. The southern states also built railways, but the lines dead-headed inland rather than featuring radiating lines that used hubs to interconnect with other railways. The absence of a connected rail network in the south was a factor in defeat.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act into law on July 1, 1862. This progressive action authorized construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. American continental railroads, built by immigrant laborers, usually under cruel and dangerous conditions, were instrumental in opening the western wilderness to travel and trade.
I’ve spent more time and kilometers riding the SNCF railway system in France than any other country. My first rail trip there was in 1966 on the boat-train from Calais (or was it Boulogne?) to Paris. The wider-gauge British trains left passengers at the ferry dock and after the Channel crossing, you’d walk to the French carriages for outward bound destinations. In the past I would ink my train travel routes on a map of France but the lines crossed and recrossed over the years to the point of obliterating the journeys and connections.
France built short rail lines to serve the mining industry. Agricultural communities resisted rail development arguing it would infringe on France’s well-organized transport network of canals and other waterways. Construction of long distance rail systems for commercial and consumer use started after 1842 with a network that could move goods for long distances overland.
Russia, with distances far greater than the U.S., opened a single railway line from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1851. With more land distance than the U.S. to cover, and few or no western and southern ports, Russia understood the value of connecting the capital and to ports in the Far East. Russia opened the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1916, though portions of the railway were functioning as early as 1903.
My experience with Mexico’s Railway Network is limited. During the early 1980’s, possibly 1981, my friend Don Tito and I boarded the Mexican railway by taking a Greyhound or Trailways bus from San Diego to El Centro, California and walking across the frontier to a train station in Mexico. I should consult a travel diary from that year to report the distances and ticket cost. I do not recall seeing a border wall at that time. The Pacific and Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California owns carriages and locomotives of the San Diego and Arizona Railway that resemble the historic rolling stock we rode south through Mexico in 1981.
We boarded the Mexican long distance train at a town just steps across the border that took us all the way south to Mazatlan, a gritty seaport opposite the tip of Baja. I do not need to see again. The train ride took two days and nights. Or maybe it just seemed that long. It slowed to a long halt at towns so locals boarded to sell tamales, soft drinks and chiclets out of plastic buckets lined with heated towels to keep the food warm.
Decades later, I lived in Mexico City and wanted to explore the country by train, but during the 1990s, the government had consolidated or terminated most passenger rail systems. Apart from a couple of tourist trains that run limited, scenic routes and a commuter rail system serving the capital city, Mexico’s passenger rail service is a distant memory.
Occasionally, proposals arise to create new passenger rail lines or high-speed rail links between major cities. But proposals are not reality. Until some future date, the inter-city express bus service is adequate, sometimes stellar, but environmentally inefficient.
Ride on, rail enthusiasts!
Teachers, create a popular lesson by displaying the reach and excesses of political corruption all the way into the classroom.
Random browsers, visit the Facebook presence of the Museum of Political Corruption
No building is big enough to hold the documented and undocumented malfeasance of politicians and their money-bag cronies. Mr. Big, and Mrs. Big too, built their short-cut to the big-top on a pile. They usually don’t get caught; throw their myrmidons out as distraction bait.
The Museum of Political Corruption will be located in Albany, a city-state capital thought to be the bedrock of American political corruption. Maybe the museum library will be interested in maintaining print and digital archives of reporting on political corruption. Some writers and journalists have deep troves of subject files long predating the Internet.
Fortunately, investigative reporters like Susanne Craig of The New York Times are on the case. In May, 2017 Susanne Craig was named first winner of The Nellie Bly Award for Investigative Reporting.
Reporter Susanne Craig’s mailbox mysteriously yielded leaked pages from Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return. A former Albany bureau chief for The Times, Susanne Craig has also led investigations into allegations of wrongdoing in state government, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut down a much-heralded commission investigating public corruption.
The Museum of Political Corruption established the Nellie Bly Award to recognize the vital role investigative reporting plays in government oversight and maintaining an informed electorate. The award is named after late 1800s pioneering investigative reporter Nellie Bly.
The 1953 dedication of Falcon Dam created a massive reservoir on the Rio Bravo del Norte, aka Rio Grande. Farmers and villagers were displaced on both sides of the river.
A city on the Mexican side was flooded, the inhabitants relocated to new homes built for them by the Mexican government.
Towns and farms on the U.S. side were also flooded, the inhabitants had to sue for relocation assistance and compensation, resolved — perhaps not equitably — years afterwards.
Reference: U.S. Congressional hearings on the dam.
Will There be Geothermal Electricity for Nevis?
In that 2009 article, it was reported that Kerry McDonald, CEO of West Indies Power (Nevis) Ltd., said “West Indies Power will now be able to start building the geothermal power plants that will supply Nevis and the other islands in the northern Caribbean with low cost, reliable, renewable, clean energy for the foreseeable future.”
They were off to a great start, but the momentum failed. In 2012, Time Magazine reported the project was stalled. By 2015, geothermal resources development for Nevis had advanced to the point that the Caribbean Development Bank was considering financial support.
Nevis plans to use its geothermal resources to generate electricity which could power air conditioning systems. Hot water could fuel cool air in resort hotels. As the IADB reported in 2013, tourism is the reliable artery that feeds the Nevis economy and hotels on the island consume a stunning amount of electricity powered mostly by oil with limited wind-generated power.
People have been tapping into geothermal energy for cooking and heating forever. Settlements near geyser fields made good sense to Stone Age ancestors. Think of geothermal as steam power sourced from Earth’s interior. The thermal energy is drawn from beneath Earth’s crust, at various distances below the surface. Jules Verne’s novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” spins a story about traveling on the hot rivers of the surface deep into the earth’s molten rivers called magma.
Volcanic areas produce reservoirs of steam and hot water. In Iceland, steam is tapped for residential heat and hot water. Steam geysers are for visitors to enjoy in remote areas of Iceland, as at Yellowstone National Park in the USA and the Valley of the Geysers north of Zhupanovo on the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia.
Update: China’s Grand Project, The Economist August 5, 2017 p. 49-50.
In 2013, Zhengzhou, a business and logistics center in Central China, became the starting point for rail transport service to Hamburg, Germany and other European ports. The trip is a 6,436 mile (10,214-kilometer) run taking 15 to 18 days — twice as fast as shipping goods by sea.
China manufactures products for the world. We all know that. And it imports tons of materials and mineral resources. Trade connections between China and the major markets of Europe and North America are essential for global economic prosperity.
No one can overlook the importance of railroad infrastructure and the challenges of distance in historical economic advancement. If a country can’t get its goods to a robust marketplace with money, the economy doesn’t grow. Ship, truck and airplane transport are all part of the modern trade and transport equation, but rail is often the cheapest way to ship goods overland.
China was slow to build its rail system, but it is now third largest in the world. During the past few decades, China has made lightening strides to improve its rail networks for passengers and freight. Some analysts believe the extensive new rail infrastructure may have been built too fast, given the problems along the Beijing to Tibet line.
The Mag-Lev rail connecter from Shanghai airport to the city’s terrific subway is a marvel, priced for tourists from the western hemisphere and wealthy Chinese. I also traveled on other Chinese railroads promoted as high speed, which were not.
Why Ship by Rail? Why Now?
Maritime routes from Central China to Northern Europe go through the Suez Canal, because despite global warming and climate change, shipping on a great circle route over the North Pole isn’t a viable option yet. According to the information graphic, the China to Northern Europe sea route is one of the heaviest travelled routes in the world. It also goes right through pirate zone near the Horn of Africa. The Suez Canal and eastern Mediterranean, last time I checked, have issues of potential instability.
This land route from China to Northern Europe saves potentially 80 % of the cost compared with air shipments, and it’s about $489 cheaper on average, compared with road transportation. DB Schenker manages the transportation and logistics.
Nicknamed the New Silk Road, the route goes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Zhengzhou International Inland Port Development Co Ltd is responsible for cooperating with partner rail companies in each country.
There is broad gauge, standard or international gauge and narrow gauge. Further complicated by an array of different widths for broad gauge.
Loading gauges, couplings, container markings, and much more are encoded by the International Union of Railways, an organization created in 1922 to standardize rail transport industry practices. There are 82 active members including from Europe, Russia, China, Kazakhstan and others. The U.S. is an associate member.
With a route that travels through five or more countries, there are challenges along the route. The railroad containers have to be shifted by crane twice:
Hewlett Packard was an early customer of the new rail connection. They booked the route for a major shipment of H-P computers manufactured in China destined to ship from Holland across the Atlantic Ocean to the US.
Here is a video of train route that the H-P computers traveled to Rotterdam, including crane transfer of containers from one railway track to a different gauge rail track.
I’m looking forward to the day passenger trains run the route!
Jihad Stamps from Yemen
FDR collected stamps. Has any president since? Maybe philately should be a required hobby for NSA types. Stamps are miniature works of art, symbols of national identity, achievement and aspiration. If Bush I or Bush II had been stamp collectors, they might have noticed evolving political sentiments expressed on the postage stamps in the Persian Gulf region. Rising militaristic spirit is spelled out boldly on Yemen’s stamps, for example.
Let’s look at a few stamps from Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and People’s Republic of Southern Yemen. Same place, different guys with guns in charge.
On stamps from the 1920’s through 40’s, the nation was known as Royaume de Yemen and Aden. Stamps resembled philatelic issues of Syria and Lebanon, then French protectorates. Early in the 1950’s the country name is simply Yemen.
There’s a flashback to French titling and design on several issues celebrating the Arab Postal Union, Arab League and other pan-Arabian organizations. During the early 1960’s, a wave of modern philatelic design focused on great works of art, boy scouts and the United Nations.
Uh oh, trouble ahead. Trouble behind…
Issues of 1963-64 are labeled Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the stamps depict patriotic themes – flags and tanks, raised torches, guns with bayonettes and more flags.
Yet in 1964, the YAR splashed their stamps with JFK, Olympic sports and Soviet astronauts, a practice used by many small nations to generate sales to topical collectors. Oddly, the New York World’s Fair appears on Yemen’s 1964 stamps. There’s prescient symbolism too, with New York City skyscrapers on Yemen’s stamps.
New York City Skyline
The Yemen flag appears inside an oval over- laid on New York harbor including the Empire State Building. It’s tempting to read meaning into the stamps which show airplanes aimed at the New York skyline, but the stamps were airmail, so the image is reasonable. I guess.
Issues of 1964-65 depict a turbaned revolutionary figure (an image similar to 21st century radical Arab-Islamics) holding a machine gun aloft honoring the Yemen Second Revolution Anniversary, not the 2nd anniversary of a revolution, but the Second Revolution. Was the First Revolution skipped by government stamp designers?
JFK and Builders of World Peace
There’s a stylized peace dove on one YAR stamp issued in September 1964 for the Arab Summit Conference. U.S. President Kennedy’s face appears on a series honoring space exploration and Russian cosmonauts issued in 1966.
Also in 1966, Yemen prints the Builders of World Peace series and includes JFK and Pope Pius XII, who famously built peace by appeasing Nazi Germany. Can you find the Arab leader who was an honored peace builder?
Several years pass. Birds, fruit, medicine, space craft, European and Asian art treasures, and Olympic winter sports are the subjects Yemen prints on its stamps. Not a bad idea since these are topical subjects prized by world philatelists, translating to revenue for the YAR.
Countries like Turkmenistan and Palau issue stamps commemorating events in the U.S. featuring U.S. Presidents. Sales revenue unknown.
Soon Yemen has another name and a new revolution. Would this be the Third Revolution? The Fourth? In 1971 the postage stamps of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen depict turbaned and masked fighters in white robes holding machine guns against a backdrop of barbed wire.
Perhaps the Yemen political propaganda department decided that didn’t encourage productive international relations, because in 1972, the commemorative stamps show folk dancing.
Southern Yemen abruptly appeared as a new country in 1968. (I’ve lost count of the revolution time line.) The new name is overprinted on stamps of the Federation of South Arabia. Subsequent stamps from the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen use images of girl scouts and soldiers aiming rifles out of a foxhole. I wonder why is it, that countries titled “People’s Republic” or “People’s Democratic Republic” never are?
Southern Yemen’s stamp designs and subjects for commemorative issues in 1969-71, glorify rifles, fighters, explosions and soldiers with rifles.
Not surprising, the series titled Palestine Day bristle with military images. The most explicit seems to be a jihad warrior ascending to the heavens on a cloud above what might be a sleeping dog.
Revolution Day in Yemen is October 14.
Might be a day to stay home.
Chalk it up to your least favorite Bad President.
Water privatization hasn’t been explored much in the general consumer media in the US, although there are articles in the scientific and water industry press. Water privatization generally refers to private contract operations of water systems owned by public utilities, however a few municipal water systems are moving to private ownership, usually when a corporation can provide economic incentives to a community that can be used for other expenses such as schools, parks, etc. in exchange for managing/partially owning a water system.
A cursory glance at the topic on the internet reveals that water privatization is a fundamental issue for the anti-government fringe by whatever fanciful name is currently in vogue — Tea Party, Tory Party, Whigs, Tipacanoe and Tyler Too? The No Nothing Party has the right name.
U.S. water privatization is on the waste water side, especially municipal waste water systems.
One outstanding example of a private water system is in Auburn, Alabama. Set up in the early 1980’s before changes to the tax law in 1986 killed private initiative investments, Auburn’s water system has been studied by universities, used as a model of successful privatization of public works. Indianapolis, Indiana is another waste water system operated on a contract basis, with private investment. U.S. municipalities embracing privitization include Syracuse, N.Y. , Georgetown, Kentucky, Coral Gables, Fl. and Santa Margarita, Calif.
Currently, U.S. municipalities are underfunded for infrastructure (including water systems) maintenance, investment and repairs so they are encouraging private investment to fill the breach. Multinationals — particularly French and British water companies — are aggressively looking for water utilities to manage on a contract basis with a view to partial or full ownership in the future.
It would be useful for people in the U.S. to know who owns their local waste water operations and water supply systems. There may be public-private arrangements where a local government council sets regulations, but who picks up the profit on your flush? Entrepreneurial operators are making an impact as their contract operations managers save money through economies of scale and engineer water plants to work more efficiently.
Viewing the Panama Canal from a cruise ship might not be the best vista. Canal bound cruise ships are so large and the decks so far above the water line that you can’t see what is going on below in the lock passages.
Boat tours of the Canal locks are offered by various providers. I went with Argo Tours on a partial transit, the only option on the day I contacted them. I couldn’t find a web link to Argo recently, so maybe their name or management has changed, but whoever offers the canal lock passage tours, the experience is worthwhile. The food was much better than I expected for a tour boat, and copious. The guide explained the history, natural lore, and mechanical process of the lock transfers in English and Spanish.
I had hoped to walk the isthmus during this two-week trip to Panama, but had difficulty lining up maps sufficiently detailed for a solo walker. Next time I travel in Panama, I plan to ride the Panama Canal Railroad which has been refurbished for the tourist trade, but will offer another perspective of travel across the isthmus.
Prior to exploring the Canal area, I spent several days at Bocas del Toro on the Carribbean side and enjoyed a 1 day island boat-snorkel tour offered by several tour operators in Bocas. Make sure you hire a boat with a canopy as the sun can be fierce.
Another day, I flew from Panama City to Isla Coronado in the Pacific for an overnight in a spiffy cliffside beach hotel. Various high-level international refugees have stayed there — the Shah of Iran, possibly Manuel Noriega and other shady characters.
On one of the weekends, friends of Experience Panama tourism guru Ana Rojo invited me to join them for the cross country drive west-north-west to Boquet in the highlands, for cooler temperatures, ranch-style living and coffee plantations. Isla Verde guest house is nice there — run by a friendly German family. The hike up the mountain is worth the effort.
In Panama City, use good sense and hire a car and driver to view the tourist highlights, because public transport can be problematic unless you have lots of time to sit around and wait. Cabbies can be helpful, or not. I rode city buses a couple of times and boarded efficient inter-city buses to reach Bocas del Toro from Boquete.
The Smithsonian operates a world-class tropical research institute at Barro Colorado, an island in Gatun Lake. The day was interesting, but we were kept close to the administrative buildings. Experienced hiker-naturalists might find the nature walk a disappointment.
If you can, book into the Country Inn and Suites Hotel (an American style business hotel with the usual discounts for AAA, government/military and seniors) because of the direct view of the Canal and all the ships. For me, that made the trip, to be able to look up from the balcony and see a tanker nosing through the canal, or the sun setting over the tropical forest on the opposite side of the canal.
A 6 km causeway made from dirt excavated from the canal runs alongside the canal, open to pedestrians and cyclists. At the end of the causeway, there’s a handful of charming islands, one of which is a small Smithsonian marine research/education facility, converted from a WWII-era lookout station. The recreational port area attracts sightseers and the marina area is bracketed by seafood restaurants. For me, it was restful to walk along the causeway, maybe visit the marine research island, have a snack at one of the restaurants and walk back to the CountryInn Suites hotel then finish up the evening looking at the canal during twilight. All along the causeway, sea breezes rustle the palm trees and folks of all generations run, rollerblade, walk and cycle.
The birdwatching at Canopy Tower and nearby trails is incomparable. Panama offers many national parks, though transportation to the parks could present a logistical hurdle.
Travel Tips. Bring along a roll of $1 and $5 US banknotes. For some reason it was hard to get singles and that’s what you need in this tip driven economy. US currency is used throughout and some prices were quite modest, except for classy hotels in the city and resort areas. If you do find yourself taking taxis, be aware that the first rate quoted by the driver is the tourist price and the normal price is perhaps 1/4. ( e.g. for a $1.25 cab ride, 8 minutes travel time, the driver will quote me, Miss Gringo Tourist, $7.00, then come down to $5.00 and even when I offer $3.00, will still try and get me to agree to a “tour”.
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