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I'm a steam train fan. When I was a kid in the early 1950s, steam locomotives still hauled more than half the freight and passengers(!!) moving by rail in the United States although dieselization was fast making the inefficient, smoke-belching, high-maintenance machines obsolete. They were a marvel just to look at in all their mechanical complication. But best of all was listening to the deep bass rumbling huff-n-puff of the locomotives, their bells and whistles and various pitches of escaping steam, the steel-on-steel squeals between wheel and rail.

We lived, in Georgia, literally on the wrong side of the tracks, the segregated side of town, divided by the rail line that ran about a tenth of a mile behind the house. Three or four times daily, a freight train whistled by on those tracks. I tried to be near enough at least once a day to wave to the engineer, who always waved back. I adored it. My grandmother hated it. She helped pay the bills by taking in laundry from people who lived on the other side of the tracks and hung it to dry outdoors. If the wind was headed the wrong way when the train came by, she had scramble to get clothes and sheets off the line before coal soot made her redo a batch.

Later, in Nebraska, my mother and I lived for nine months with Holata, my grandfather's brother and his family. He had been a coal miner, starting as a slate-boy at age 11. But he had given up mining in his 20s to become a brakeman for a short-line railroad and eventually the Union Pacific. Right next door, and I mean right next door, was the space-saving roundhouse, the big maintenance shed with its giant lazy-susan built to spin the locomotives around and insert them into slots so a dozen of the beasts could be worked on at once. I got to watch the mechanics often.

When the opportunity comes around, far less often than I would like these days, I go out of my way to ride the few remaining steam trains, tourist trains, mostly narrow-gauge operations of a few miles at most. But from Chama, New Mexico, Baldwin Mikado locomotives still carry summertime passengers on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad through the gorgeous highlands across the state boundary 64 miles down the line to Antonito, Colorado. And back the next day if you have time. I've ridden that run more than 10 times since the 1970s. Spent hours watching and talking to the mechanics who keep the 88-year-old locomotives in prime condition, often building their own spare parts.

Much as I enjoy those antique machines, however, what I'm eager to still be alive for is to ride behind a locomotive that doesn't look or work anything like these old steamers. Locomotives that could make that four-hour trip in just 13 minutes.

At Wired, Keith Barry writes about it in Japan’s Levitating Train Hits 310 MPH in Trials:

It’s currently the world’s longest and fastest stretch of maglev train, reaching speeds as high as 310 mph in a demonstration last week. But Japan’s L-Zero only lives on 15 miles of test track, and we’re still more than a decade away from completion.

After five years of trials, plus some starts and stops, Central Japan Railway Co. is finally starting construction on a maglev line between Nagoya and Tokyo, a 177-mile trip that will be cut from 95 minutes on today’s high-speed trains to just 40 minutes with maglev by 2027. To put that kind of speed in perspective, Amtrak’s Acela takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes to go about 210 miles. A trip from Boston to New York on maglev would take under an hour.

By 2045, JR Central hopes to extend the line to Osaka, which will cut the number of passengers on the frequent flights between the two cities. When built, the maglev will join an airport line in Shanghai and a low-speed train in Nagoya, among other rail systems that use magnets to float rail cars above a track to reduce friction and increase stability.

While Japan’s maglev promises to be an impressive technical feat, there’s some worry that Japan’s population won’t be big enough to sustain it. The Nagoya extension alone is expected to cost anywhere from $52 billion to as much as $90 billion, thanks to the difficulty of tunneling through cities and mountains to make a straight track. [...]

Japan’s L-Zero mag-lev train
Whooooooooosh!
I hope they solve their technical and financial issues and keep to the announced schedule for the Nagoya to Osaka run. If they do, it will be just in time for my 100th birthday.


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2003Okay, so WMDs wasn't the issue after all...:

There's moving the goal posts, and then there's moving to an entirely different stadium. In a different city. Playing a different sport.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was justified in part because Saddam Hussein retained scientists capable of building nuclear weapons, Washington's top arms control official said Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, said that whether Saddam's regime actually possessed weapons of mass destruction "isn't really the issue."

"The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have ... WMD programs," Bolton said at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

So apparently, any country with the misfortune of having physicists within its borders may now face the wrath of the US military.

Tweet of the Day:

Study: People save more energy when they think someone is watching them http://t.co/...
@MotherJones



Today's Kagro in the Morning show featured a rebroadcast of our September 6, 2012 show, from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. Greg Dworkin rounded up the day's news, speech reactions & polls. Bill Clinton had brought the house down the night before, so it was up to Jennifer Rubin & the AP "fact checkers" to bring Clinton down in return. It was an unfair fight, but that just made the pathetic attempts all the more entertaining for us! Also: musings on convention logistics, the street scapes, the heavily militarized police presence, and RachelLive's ability to wrangle prime seating for the previous night's events!


High Impact Posts. Top Comments.

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