Hallmark holidays (and other pet peeves)


Yesterday, on the 143rd anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike (almost to the minute, interestingly enough), I ran across a sign taped to a glass door. In living colour, it proclaimed:

"National Train Day - Discover the Rail Way - Come join us and celebrate America's Railroad Holiday! - ALL ABOARD!!!"

Printed at the bottom of the page were locations and times for assorted events.

So, why does this turn me off so much?

If this is truly "America's Railroad Holiday," why shouldn't I be enthused? Why am I not planning various ways I might volunteer my time to spread the word (whatever that word might be)?

I really don't have good answers to those questions. I only know the entire manufactured event leaves me cold (and, apparently, causes me to embrace numerous cliches).

Maybe if Amtrak hadn't started it, I'd feel differently. Problem is, they did - and it all seems so self-serving, it makes me sick. Besides, I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be celebrating.

Perhaps I'm being unrealistic. Amtrak exists as a child of the political process. Why not do whatever is necessary to encourage people to "think train"? Certainly, it doesn't hurt to do just that. Far too many individual railroads, transit agencies, museums and railfan groups have involved themselves through the years (and have returned the next time 'round) for there to be anything overtly negative about the celebration.

Is it simply because someone had the audacity to concoct a holiday? In truth, that's how practically every holiday (apart from anniversaries) was initially created. Even many which purport to be derived from specific calendar dates are, in the final analysis, innovations of man. If we disallowed human involvement in the process, I can't think of many holidays which would exist, save those commemorating a singular historical incident.

And of those true anniversaries...well, they are subject to divine providence. After all, despite the "best-laid schemes o' mice an' men," the aforementioned event at Promontory Summit occurred on May the 10th - not the 8th as originally intended.

The cynic within makes things even worse by asking an otherwise reasonable question: how does Amtrak's anniversary (May 1st) tie in with the planning of National Train Day?

I guess it really doesn't matter. I honestly don't begrudge anyone else taking part in N.T.D. [Is it alright to use the abbreviation?] I just don't feel kindly toward the day, itself.

Here's something else which came to mind:

Had I been in Los Angeles and was planning to attend the official National Train Day event in New York City (to be held, oddly enough, at Grand Central Terminal - a location which Amtrak abandoned over twenty years ago), I could have, theoretically, departed Union Station (nee L.A.U.P.T.) via AMTK 4 on the 8th with every expectation to be on Mahattan Island in time for the celebration. That day, number 4 departed Los Angeles right on the advertised.

Unfortunately, train 4 began to suffer engine problems almost as soon as it cleared Mission Tower. One locomotive failed, then was revived enough to limp along - only to have the other go completely dead in Barstow. BNSF came to the rescue with a unit off an incoming freight train, but they needed some time to prepare it. 4 departed Barstow 2 hours and 13 minutes late.

With only the BNSF loco performing up to standards, the train lost time steadily - no, not just steadily; embarrassingly - until it reached Albuquerque and a relief Amtrak unit. AMTK 4 left Albuquerque 6:43 behind time.

Final arrival in Chicago was at 10:59 p.m., 7 hours and 44 minutes late. Number 4 missed its Lake Shore Limited connection (which left on time, in case you were wondering) by 1 hour and 29 minutes.

Unless I cashed it in and took to the skies, I'd miss every one of the New York events.

Sometimes, do things just "happen"? Sure; but, equipment troubles are nothing new at the 'trak. I feel perfectly justified wishing Amtrak would spend a little less energy creating holidays and planning special equipment displays and a little more time maintaining its road power.

Then again, maybe all of this N.T.D. stuff simply falls under the category of "Scraping-Fingernails-Across-A-Blackboard-And-Other-Things-That-Absolutely-Make-Me-Cringe":

There's the term "Choo-Choo" and all of its derivatives, including reading or hearing of a modern-day train "chugging" down the line. This is especially true when the words "Choo-Choo" are intoned as if they were emanating from a steam locomotive whistle. How often I hear folks getting their Choo-Choos mixed up with their Woo-Woos!

Another is when someone refers to a locomotive Engineer as a "Conductor." This is something else one encounters quite often in news accounts. It gets worse, though. Even when confronted with a traditional Engineer's uniform of striped bib overalls and a pleated cap, people (who one might think are old enough to know better) often call the employee a Conductor!

The presumed use of "All Aboard" as a term indicating "highball" rather than a simple command for passengers to enter a train's consist is also bothersome to me. After all, a Conductor (in a black or navy blue pillbox hat, mind you) doesn't say "'boooard" for the sake of the Engineer (the guy up in the cab)!

That's enough. My list could go on (and on!), but it'd probably serve no constructive purpose. We all have our own pet peeves; who really cares about someone else's?

I only wish I didn't equate National Train Day with other Hallmark holidays. It'd be nice to commemorate "the ways trains touch the lives of people" (yes, that's actually what one of the brochures says) without feeling my head spin (or my stomach churn).

And I'd like to think I could celebrate Amtrak's special (albeit artificial) day aboard a train with at least one functioning locomotive.



  • "Acta non Verba," ( Deeds, not Words) is the motto of the US Merchant Marine Academy and should be posted on Amtrak senior management office walls!  But, this is true not just for Amtrak: years ago I heard a talk by the new CEO of Volvo who decided to come to the US to better understand how to build cars. He was astonished to see that US management felt they were improving workers morale by changing the colors in the restrooms from time to time all the while having workers try to do their assembly jobs while walking to keep up with the moving line....We seem to spend a lot of time & money doing PR type things, image stuff while ignoring the basics of what our product is, who our customer is and what they want. The money Amtrak spent on "Acela," its name, its uniform, its magazine, its "image" along with the new replacement logo (from pointless arrow to track swish) all could have done a few engine rebuilds!  

  • Still have an '82' VOLVO Diesel in-line 6-cyl 3-Litre that runs like a mini-yard switcher.

  • Imported from Detroit:

    Mad Car Disease!

  • Well, all I can say is that it is official. You have no life.

  • Let me describe my impressions of "National Train Day". I travelled on the Amtrak Empire Builder, from the Twin Cities to Union Station Chicago! I got to Chicago a day before so I could visit some of my fav Chi-town sites, and several great restaurants with my travel companion, one of my brothers who is a Class 1 rail executive. We always catch the view from the Willis Tower (Sears) "Skydeck". As this vantage point is just an incredible gaze at a huge city's skyline of tall buildings! After a solid breakfast in our downtown hotel just walking distance from massive Union Station, we joined the event as the crowd began to build. One must conclude with an educated understanding of America's passenger railroad history that Amtrak will become just the half-time between the demise of private passenger railroading ending in 1971 to an emerging interest from the private industrial transportation sector! Amtrak really didn't have much to show...just a few re-hashed promotions concerning what they call, "faster-rail" with a kiosk displaying old-news maps of connections from Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis. Then there were the everpresent citizen action groups; like someone called, "Midwest High-Speed Rail", with a table occupied by info-people that really didn't have any conception of what genuine high-speed rail is, or how it is designed and built. There was an Amtrak dinning car food display which was the most interesting as my first-class sleeper meals on the way to Chi-town and back home in the dinner actually were quite excellent! Amtrak missed the boat by not showing any info on their recent equipment orders for the future. There really wasn't any information on what may happen in Amtrak's future! Just the old promo on Acela, which has been replayed and rerun so many times. Nothing at all on NEC corridor plans for faster service. I must grant Amtrak applause on their effort, though I believe that more info on equipment orders for the future and route plans would have captured the publics imagination in a more educational way. My professional advice as a writer concerning real high-speed rail and a infrastructure designer in retirement would be for Amtrak to push the future in next years event. Maybe even have a genuine 200+mph high speed passenger car on display at Union. I'm sure Alstom of France or Siemens of Germany would freight one over here for 2013's show!!! That would give the so-called citizen steering groups something to really talk about!