Sunday, December 13, 2009

Austin Is Still Waiting For The Golden Spike

The Texas Hill Country is a positive place, so, my observations and commentary are most nearly always positive. But, as a historian, there are times when I have to “pull back on the reins,” and call things as I see them.

It was in 2004, when the voters of Austin, Texas, approved spending money to authorize a short thirty mile rail line to carry commuters from Leander south to downtown Austin. I won’t even get into the money spent, and the fact that the hours the train will run are basically just during rush times and nothing more. And, despite the fact the train is not even running yet, there has already been a fare increase. In my humble opinion, something is “asleep at the switch.”

As an observer, and commentator, here is what I have to offer on the matter. With apologies to the mysterious author Watty Piper, if he, she, or it really ever existed, the Austin rail project is The Little Engine That Could Not. Despite the fact that the actual rail was already in place, given that it is an existing freight line, it is now December 2009, coming up on two years since the original scheduled opening, and nearly six years after the vote, and still no train is running.

As a historian, here is what I have to offer on the matter. The Transcontinental Railroad, a span of over a thousand miles, was built in just six years between Iowa and California. There was no existing track, it was started in the midst of our momentous Civil War, and the engineering and logistical challenges across the frontier were enormous, especially over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

As an observer, commentator, and historian, here is what I have to offer on the matter. Both the Austin Rail project and the Transcontinental Railroad took six years to complete. The Transcontinental Railroad was built from scratch and covered over a thousand miles. The Austin Rail project used an existing rail line and covered a little more than thirty miles. The Transcontinental Railroad spanned the Great Plains and mountain ranges. The Austin Rail project, well, to be kind, did not.

To sum it all up, in my humble opinion, if the Austin powers to be, were in charge of getting the Transcontinental Railroad built, we’d still be waiting, over 140 years later, for the golden spike to be driven into the rail bed in Promontory Summit, Utah. The circumstances speak for themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the commuter rail. But, I would like to see the hours expanded, once this darn thing gets running, if it ever does. In any event, get that “golden spike” driven into the ground. In the meantime, we’re all waiting. The deserted passenger platforms, from Leander to downtown Austin, look a little sad at this point.

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