Category Archives: Social Issues

Train To Fort Benning, Georgia : A Recruit’s Journey

I received a letter from a follower who is writing a book on her father’s life. She is using letters home which her father wrote and had a gap on how he got from New York to Fort Benning, Georgia. Questions like what did he wear, where did he eat, where did he sleep.

Told her I would write a fictional story based on what facts I knew.

Dad’s Journey started at Albany, the capitol of New York State. Dad got “orders” in the mail to report to the Washington Avenue Armory:

Dad’s orders wanted him to appear at 07:30 hours in the morning. When he got off the Central Avenue bus he recognized several others waiting in the crowd. A sergeant who looked like a veteran of the Great War was handing out papers to be completed.

In the meantime a train had left Utica with four passenger cars. One of them was a Lackawanna car just off their Utica branch. The other three were New York Central cars off of the Adirondack Division.

Dad and the other recruits were “formed up” into a marching group, administered an “oath of office” and walked past the Capitol building to Albany’s Union Station. There was no band playing, but they were cheered on by citizens on the street.

At the Albany Station, the train from Utica had arrived and a switcher had brought three more cars and what would serve as a diner over from the West Albany Car Shop. The “diner” was loaded with box meals from the New York Central contractor, a Madison Avenue bakery.

Once the train was through New York City, the rest of the trip would be on “foreign”railroads. New York Central put good power on the train: a “Mohawk” (called a “Mountain” on other railroads……but not on the Water Level Route).

The train leaves before 11am and makes stops at Castleton, Hudson and Rhinebeck. Now the train is filled.

Next stop is Harmon to change engines to an electric one.

Now the train runs to Mott Haven then switches to a New Haven electric motor for a trip across the Hell Gate Bridge. Now they hook up a Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 locomotive headed for Washington.

In Washington DC, the Pennsyania Railroad bypassed Union Station and went directly to the huge Potomac Yard across the river. The GG1 was replaced by a modern steam engine belonging the Southern Railway (a founder of the current huge Norfolk Southern System).

Reaching Georgia, the train changed over to the Central Of Georgia Railway for it’s trip to Columbus, Georgia and Fort Benning.

Fort Benning at that time was relatively new. It had been created in World War I. So basic training housing was walking distance to the train. There was once a two-foot railroad around Fort Benning…..but the walk was easier.

Now Dad will have a better place to sleep than an old day coach

See the full WebSite on Dad’s trip to Fort Benning

So What Is Going On With TWITTER?

Last night I finished planned work early and decided to do something I had never done before! Go on TWITTER. So I typed “www.twtter.com”. I guess I am already logged in because of always posting blogs and WebSites. They must “track” my interests as I got a lot of train pictures.

Then I got a “tweet” from @Write inTrump
“Jeff Bezos may be the richest man in the World but how many nuclear submarines does he have?”

Then I got a picture of Amazon Headquarters

Finally, a cute little poster

Then I got tired and gave up.

How Retailers Can Stay OFF The Closing List

MultiChannelMerchant

In April, Swiss brokerage firm Credit Suisse released a report that sent shock waves through the retail universe. It predicted that more than 8600 brick and mortar stores could shutter before the end of 2017. That would make it the worst year on record for store closures. It’s the stuff of nightmares for retailers.

Whether or not you believe the Credit Suisse analysts are right, you can avoid being one of those stores — all it really takes is providing the experiences that today’s consumers demand. Movie theaters in the 1980s faced a similar environment when home video hit big. The industry feared that once people could rent and watch videos at home, nobody would pay to go to a theater and they would all go out of business.

In April, Swiss brokerage firm Credit Suisse released a report that sent shock waves through the retail universe. It predicted that more than 8600 brick and mortar stores could shutter before the end of 2017. That would make it the worst year on record for store closures. It’s the stuff of nightmares for retailers.

Whether or not you believe the Credit Suisse analysts are right, you can avoid being one of those stores — all it really takes is providing the experiences that today’s consumers demand. Movie theaters in the 1980s faced a similar environment when home video hit big. The industry feared that once people could rent and watch videos at home, nobody would pay to go to a theater and they would all go out of business.

Integrate Ecommerce and POS inventory
Omnichannel shoppers see no difference between your ecommerce and POS offerings and neither should you. Make every store’s inventory visible to online shoppers so that you can take advantage of the “buy online, pick-up in store” model. Integrated ecommerce and POS inventory management systems show real-time availability so consumers do not face unexpected out-of-stocks at brick and mortar locations. If an item is not available at the customer’s selected store, provide fast and free transfer from another store.

Use brick and mortar stores as fulfillment centers
Every physical store should also double as a fulfillment center for web orders. This opens up every item in inventory to sales from any channel and reduces time in transit for ecommerce orders. Orders that are automatically routed to locations closest to customers can reach front doors faster than from a central warehouse, often overnight or within two days without incurring express shipping charges.

Go mobile
It’s official — mobile internet usage has surpassed desktop traffic. If your website does not display properly on mobile devices, you’re missing out on a huge number of consumers. But just displaying properly is no longer enough. Navigation, inventory visibility and checkout must all be optimized for mobile users. This has massive benefits for brick and mortar as well when customers on the go can locate items in your stores; they may even make purchases from inside a competitor’s location.

Automate ordering with vendors
The long-time promise of just in time inventory management finally eliminated worries about out-of-stocks. Set minimum and maximum thresholds for SKUs and let your retail management platform automatically order the right amount of inventory from suppliers at the exact right moment. When you know every product you sell will be automatically replenished before it sells through, you do not have to keep as much inventory on hand and can open up shelf space for additional offerings likely to attract customers. You also don’t have to worry anymore about selling out on popular items and sending frustrated customers home empty handed.

Empower every employee as a checkout
One of the worst things that can happen in a store is when customers with intent to purchase leave upon seeing long checkout lines, or can’t find anyone to take their money. The in-store experience must be as smooth and easy as it is online — consumers are no longer willing to wait. Arm every employee with a tablet loaded with mobile POS software so they can complete transactions, look up inventory, and place customer orders from anywhere in the store.

Personalize direct marketing to customers
Target individual customer segments with the offers most likely to appeal to them through marketing automation. Integrate online and POS customer data to segment personas effectively and send promotions that are personalized to known preferences and likely to bring customers into stores. Specific behaviors should trigger customized messages, and look for opportunities to leverage ecommerce and in-store offerings. For example, an abandoned shopping cart may trigger a reminder message that could also include a note like, “this item is also available at your nearest store, would you like us to hold it for you?”

Expand inventory exponentially with drop shipping
Drop shipping today does not resemble what it looked like 15 years ago. Many vendors offer drop shipping that can use your branding and fulfill lightning fast. Offering items for sale that you do not have hold in inventory opens up your website to endless opportunities and it can also be integrated into “buy online, pick up in store.” Give customers the option of having the item sent to their homes or to their nearest store with no shipping charges. If they select a store, simply have the vendor pack the item along with your next regular order.

The next time you see a headline about a retailer closing stores, refer back to this list. It will become clear that one of the major reasons the merchant is in trouble is because it is not responding quickly enough to the changing demands of modern consumers. Provide the experiences today’s empowered shoppers expect and you will have much less to fear from predictions of impending doom.

New York’s subway has always been a chamber of horrors. But when did it get this bad?

From Los Angeles times via California rail news via Nice, France

Featured image:John Raskin, center, executive director of Riders Alliance, leads a rally demanding improvements in New York public transportation.

“Die Kitties Die!” screamed the headline in the New York Daily News when, in 2013, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Joe Lhota criticized a decision to pause trains in a Brooklyn subway station to rescue a pair of kittens lost on the tracks.

These days, New York so badly needs to get the trains to run on time that Lhota, whose unfortunate anti-cat comments caused a minor scandal, has been brought back as chairman of the transit agency.

Extreme measures are in order to fix the 112-year-old subway system, and nothing — not budget cuts, political infighting, or cats — can stand in the way.

Delays have doubled over the last five years, and accidents are on the rise. A subway derailed last week, crashing into a wall and igniting a trash fire after hitting equipment left on a track near 125th Street in Harlem. Nobody was seriously injured, but hundreds of terrified passengers had to evacuate through a smoky underground passage lighted only by their cellphones.

On the heels of the derailment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week signed an executive order declaring a “state of emergency” on the subways, making official what many New Yorkers in their gut already know. The governor also allocated an additional $1 billion for improvements.

Few think it will make much impact for the largest subway system in the United States, with 665 miles of track and 472 stations.


A woman with a baby stroller fails to get on a train at Grand Central Terminal. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times).

“It’s a good start, but where will the other billions come from?” asked John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, a grass-roots passenger advocacy group.

The alliance has been holding impromptu protests demanding improvements in service and has even published a book, “Subway Horror Stories,’’ with first-person accounts of mishaps on the subway.

Recent months have brought plenty of fresh anecdotes. Passengers improvised a graduation ceremony May 31 on a stalled E train from Queens to Manhattan for Jericho Marco Alcantara, who missed the real thing at Hunter College because of the delays.

When a rush-hour train stalled for 45 minutes last month without power or air conditioning, doors and windows locked, turning the cars into a virtual steam bath. Passengers stripped nearly naked and someone scrawled on the steamy window, “I will survive.” Two weeks ago, passengers escaped from a similarly stalled train by walking along the subway tracks, in peril of electrocution.

“Subway riders are tired of risking their lives, their jobs, their sanity,’’ yelled one of the protesters, Jackie Cohen.

To be sure, the system isn’t as bad as it was in the 1980s, when cars were covered with graffiti and riders had to look over their shoulders for fear of being mugged.

Today the subways are in some ways victims of their own success. The city’s economy is booming and so is public transit ridership. Nearly 6 million people a day use the subway, up from 4 million in the 1990s, and they are packed into a system that has barely grown at all.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s own data show that about one-third of the 58,651 delays reported in April, the most recent month available, were caused by overcrowding.

Many of the subway system’s cars date back to the time of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. And the system cannot ease overcrowding by simply ordering new cars because the 70-year-old switching system is too antiquated to manage more cars on the same tracks without a risk of collisions.

There have been no upgrades over the years. With champagne toasts and a live jazz band, a black-tie crowd of dignitaries hosted by the governor attended the New Year’s Eve opening of the long-delayed Second Avenue subway, built at a cost of $4.5 billion. Many subways now have WiFi and a link to free downloads from the New York Public Library. Buses are adding USB charging stations.

But upgrades that don’t lend themselves to photo opportunities have gone neglected.

“What we need is the unsexy, behind-the-scenes maintenance and equipment that actually keeps the subway running,’’ said Raskin.

“The tracks are not well-maintained. When something goes wrong, they do a quick fix on them,’’ said John Ferretti, a subway conductor and shop steward for the Transport Workers Union. “We work on cars that are almost 60 years old where the power and the air conditioning is not working. People yell at us because we are wearing an MTA uniform. When that train is stuck, it’s up to us to keep 2,000 customers from freaking out.’’

Politically speaking, the New York City subway system is something of an orphan. Contrary to expectations, it falls under the jurisdiction of the state, not the city, a situation that has allowed the mayor and the governor — in this case Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo, Democrats who don’t particularly get along — to blame each other when something goes wrong.

“The governor has been indifferent to issues surrounding the subways. He feels he can take the votes of urban Democrats for granted and that he has to spend his time wooing swing voters in the suburbs,’’ said David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, a foundation dedicated to public transportation.

New York City also gets the short shrift because, unlike Paris, London, Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow, which also have large subway systems, it is not a national capital.

“The London subway system is older. So is the Paris subway system. But they are national capitals. New York is not, and we have a federal government that is hostile to urban areas,’’ said Bragdon.

The rising chorus of complaints about the subways prompted Cuomo last month to bring Lhota back. A respected administrator, Lhota is credited with getting the transit system up and running quickly after the devastating flooding in 2012 from Superstorm Sandy — after which he resigned to make an unsuccessful bid for the Republican mayoral nomination. (It was during that mayoral campaign that he became famous for his comments about the kittens.)

His reappointment has raised expectations.

Lhota has been given 30 days to conduct an audit that he calls the subway recovery and transformation plan. At a conference of transportation experts this week, he said his priority is to upgrade the technology to current standards.

“The system opened in 1904. It was designed in the 19th century. For the most part, it is still running on concepts that were developed by folks in the late 1800s, and that’s problematic in this, the 21st century,’’ Lhota said at the conference.

The promised improvements may come just in time for subway riders who say they are losing patience. This year for the first time in decades, subway use dipped slightly — a phenomenon attributed to commuters switching to ride-sharing apps and bicycles.

“I haven’t had anything terrible happen to me, but honestly I’m worried. I’m old now. What if I have to climb out of a train?’’ said 82-year-old Marilyn Savetsky, a retiree clutching her Chihuahua who attended a protest last week. She has now switched to the bus.

Pictured above is the NY Subway “Control Room” way, way underneath W 4th Street. Equipment, except for PC and a FAX is from the 1920’s. Picture by Penney Vanderbilt.

Google’s Idea for a New Silicon Valley

NY Times via California Rail News

Google and other technology companies have been criticized for contributing to the sharp increases in housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area — and not doing much to address the fallout for the hundreds of thousands of lower- and middle-income workers who can no longer afford to live there. The Diridon station plan does not immediately address this problem: It calls for office space for 15,000 to 20,000 workers and only 2,500 units of housing, according to the mayor.

But through a web of public transportation it could connect Silicon Valley to more affordable areas.

By 2025, Diridon station would host Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains and, if fierce opposition by the state’s Republican Congressional delegation is overcome, a high-speed rail line already under construction in the central valley, which would allow someone to live in Fresno and get to San Jose in less than an hour.

Texas High-Speed Rail Project Moves Forward

NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth via California Rail News

Texas Central, the Dallas company planning to build a high-speed train between Dallas and Houston, has reached a deal with a major global consortium to design and build the project.

An official announcement is expected within a matter of days

“We have a world-class design builder that has just signed on to come and build this for us,” said Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central.
The 59 year-old Aguilar has been on the job at Texas Central since December. He brings decades of experience with huge infrastructure projects, including the Cantarell offshore natural gas field in Mexico, the London Underground and the world’s largest solar thermal energy plant in Ivanpah, Calif.

How Home Ownership Became The Engine Of America Inequality

New York Times Magazine via California Rail News

Almost a decade removed from the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008, the nation is facing one of the worst affordable-housing shortages in generations. The standard of “affordable” housing is that which costs roughly 30 percent or less of a family’s income. Because of rising housing costs and stagnant wages, slightly more than half of all poor renting families in the country spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs, and at least one in four spends more than 70 percent. Yet America’s national housing policy gives affluent homeowners large benefits; middle-class homeowners, smaller benefits; and most renters, who are disproportionately poor, nothing. It is difficult to think of another social policy that more successfully multiplies America’s inequality in such a sweeping fashion.

Southern California Metrolink Trains Now Allow Surfboards

US News & World Report via California Rail News

Catch a wave — after you catch a train.

Surfers can now bring their boards along when taking Southern California’s Metrolink train service to the beach.

The railroad said Thursday it has added surfboard storage to cars that previously were designated for bicycles.

Metrolink says every train on all lines will have a bike-and-board car, each with room for five surfboards

Students Ditch The Limo And Hop On Train To Get To The Prom

Los Angeles Times via California Rail

In  the run-up to prom, Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita made its students a special offer. Whoever won a raffle would get to ride in a school-sponsored limo with their friends while the rest of the class took a Metrolink train.
It didn’t go as planned.
“It was hard just to sell the raffle tickets,” said Vincent Wheeler, an administrator at Golden Valley. “The students were like, ‘This is great, but, uh, we want to take the train.’”

Say what you will about Southern California’s car-obsessed culture, but for two high schools in L.A. County, public transportation was the vehicle of choice for that most American of rituals.

Two trains packed with glitzy commuters sporting corsages and boutonnieres departed for Union Station on Saturday evening. One carried more than 500 students from A.B. Miller High School in Fontana. Another ferried about 500 Golden Valley students who made their connection to the red line and traveled on to Madame Tussauds Hollywood.

BART fare cheaters drain up to $25 million a year

The transit agency’s Operations and Safety Committee, chaired by BART board Director Joel Keller, met Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent fare evaders from riding the system for free.
According to BART documents, the transit agency loses an estimated $15 to $25 million in revenue annually. BART estimates its fare evasion is rate is between 4 to 5 percent.
Funny how a few years ago, LA Metro installed gates at most rail transit stations and dumped the Self Service (selbstbedienung in German where it was invented) ticketing that works well all around the world. The plan behind installing the gates was to reduce the number of fare cheaters. In the process LA Metro “saved money” by reducing the number of ticket inspectors who also act as security on the trains. I guess people who want to avoid paying fares have no problems jumping over fare gates.

“Through a three-tiered strategy of enforcement, station hardening, and education, BART aims to raise the stakes for fare evaders, and assure our riders that we value their patronage and investment and foster the expectation that every rider pay their fair share.”

Some of ways fare evaders get into paid areas include following behind a paid BART passenger entering the fare gate, jumping over the glass barriers or fare gates, and entering through emergency exits.

SFBay via California Rail News