Featured Discussion for July 2011

Railways and Government Involvement

This month we will look at the way governments get involved with railways. Railways developed as trade demands grew so they were largely funded by private capital. Some times this was in short supply, as civil engineers have a long history of under estimating costs. For example Islambard Brunel often understated final costs by a factor of five like the broad gauge rail, the Atmospheric Railway and the Great Eastern. We had the same cost blowouts with the Sydney Opera House construction. In fact the first railway in NSW, Sydney to Parramatta was completed by the NSW Government as private capital was used up.

In America a huge pattern of railways covered the country all or almost all built with private capital but as the revenue from passengers and/or freight diminished - services were reduced - then a cry went out to save the service so companies amalgamated (often) or state governments got involved. The development of the super jet airliners, post-war, had a devastating impact on passenger traffic. Passenger services were slashed and the US government got involved from 1971 with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation trading as 'Amtrak', its board is appointed by the President of the USA. Amtrak employs 19,000 staff, it operates on 34,000km (24,000 miles) of track with 500 destinations in 46 states and 3 Canadian Providences. In 2008 Amtrak carried 28.7 million passengers.

Jenny showing The Amtrack

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For a more detailed history on Amtrak visit the site on Wikipedia - it is 18 pages long.

Our exhibit is modelled by Aristocraft. The train of 2 passenger cars, 2 vista dome cars and diner is hauled by 2 E8 diesel electric locomotives. In the present age train travel can be part of a trip or holiday, not just a means of getting from A to B. The writer has travelled across much of North America by rail and enjoyed the experience. Our equivalents are the Ghan, the India Pacific and the Sunlander - it's a great way to see the country.

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