Columnist Jim Cahillane: Must make East-West train a priority

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Published: 7/25/2017 8:13:43 PM

Do you think of yourself as a demographic? No, neither do I. However, the fact is that others view us in many more ways than we even consider — given that we have lives to live and things to do.

I started a list of characteristics applying just to myself. To the marketer’s computer I am: male, over 65, married, veteran, registered Democrat, homeowner, licensed driver, retired, college graduate and consumer. Each of those categories makes me a sales target for goods, services or contributions.

Therefore, we are telephoned, junk mailed, and emailed in a carpet-bombing effort to relieve us of our Social Security still stuck at the same amount for years while every price at the store or supermarket has risen. As much as I would like to do so, I can’t blame the Russians or even our billionaire president. For sure, he and his peers had a far better decade that the rest of us.

I measure myself differently, but in the way of things, must invariably dovetail with my titles as listed above. I am currently a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew and, in a life-fulfilling enterprise, a great-grandfather to Orion and Wyatt. (Once upon a time, long ago, I asked a young lady for a dance).

Despite inevitable aging with gratitude to the nurses, primary care doctors, optometrists and surgeons who annually prop me up, I find plenty of things beyond physical complaints to annoy me.

One is the news from Boston that our beautiful Western Mass (great slogan idea) has been stiffed again regarding an East-West, high-speed rail study required to move our transportation system into the 21st century.

It makes absolutely no sense for the taxpayers to spend $94 million renewing Springfield’s Union Station and not find new ways to fully put it to work. I have strong recollections of leaving Springfield for San Antonio, Texas, in January 1951, thanks to signing up for the Air Force. Oddly, five years later my bride and I joined friends on an excursion to New York City to celebrate New Year’s 1956 in Times Square. It was one of those crazy ideas that you get away with when young. We were back in Springfield early morning Jan. 1., and haven’t boarded an American train since.

Europe is another story. The Chunnel from London to Paris needs no publicity. What’s important is that Europeans have had the vision to work together to fund transportation systems for the greater good. Train travel in England is expensive unless you buy seasonal tickets for commuters or tourists. The reliability though allows one to live in the countryside and work in London.

As a tourist I have given up my rental car to take a day-trip into Oxford, and once picked up my rental car next door to Oxford Station. My point is that multiple choices make life easier. In rural America, it’s mostly the automobile or shanks mare.

Looking back, I probably misspent five decades selling a few thousand cars and trucks. It made sense at the time because better road systems were being built and car ownership was the American dream. No more, fewer teenagers are getting licenses as a rite of passage, and cities have options: rental bikes, Zipcars, Uber, Lyft and bus alternatives.

The automotive world of my youth is changing by the minute — and few of us saw it coming. When the gas-electric Toyota Prius hybrid came along, General Motors’ executives noted its tiny market share and dismissed its potential. Then came Elon Musk’s fully electric Tesla. Tax rebate incentives for zero-emission cars sparked a new reality — cars of the future will be electric.

My late English father-in-law, Eddie Stone, retired from the Great Western Railway founded by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The GWR was so well run that in time its nickname became “God’s Wonderful Railway.” I can almost look forward to years from now when I’m with Eddie, but my great-grandchildren are commuting to Boston in an hour on the West-Mass Rocket or WMR.

That future depends on environmentalists, columnists, media, and Western Mass interests to push honest elected officials to keep East-West train travel number one on their to-do list. Each of them must be squeaky-wheels loud enough to drown out and expose the lobbyists and their big-dollar donations to claim private not public interests.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent call to “study” every means of transport begs the question. The very word obfuscation must have its origins in political press releases.

For example, and a tip for Donald Trump Jr.: Exactly how many Russians were in the room matters!

Jim Cahillane, of Williamsburg, is a writer, poet and one-time automobile salesman who writes a monthly column.




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