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Railways could lay tracks to the future

Date: 6/7/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

I will fully admit my prejudice: I love trains.

When I go to New York City, I usually go by train. I have nothing against buses. They are a fine way to travel as well and I've certainly used them, but I like the ability to get up and walk around something that is important on the long trips I've taken to Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va.

And I like the convenience of having a club or dining car.

Certainly, they have disadvantages as well. There is not as great a flexibility in Amtrak schedules as there is with intercity bus service. There have been plenty of times I stood in the center of Penn Station in New York City and stared at the schedule board praying the Amtrak train back to Springfield would roll into that station on time only to see the sign announce that it was late.

I was on a train from Washington, D.C., once and sat on the track for hours because the entire signaling system on the east coast was knocked out. I missed my connection in New Haven, Conn., and Amtrak put me in a cab that drove me to the Springfield station.

Certainly I was glad to hear at a meeting I covered last week on the status of the intercity high-speed rail initiative in Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts that significant progress is being made.

Having high speed rail that would link Montreal, Canada, to the corridor with White River Junction, Vt., Greenfield, Northampton, Springfield, Hartford, Conn., New Haven, Conn., New York City, and points south to Washington, D.C., would be a real long-term economic engine.

Linking intercity trains with buses that could take passengers from stations to communities away from the tracks would create a multi-level transportation infrastructure, the product of both public and private investment.

I think it will raise our standard of living by creating jobs, by opening new real estate markets to people who are not able to easily commute and lower pollution and congestion on our highways.

My only criticism is that it can't come soon enough.


A standard practice of mine is to size up who is covering an event with me. At the meeting on the high-speed rail project, I was the only traditional print reporter. A television reporter came in and out for about 10 minutes. And there were three bloggers, including my friends Bill Dusty from the Springfield Intruder and Peter from Holyoke Van Dog.

Now, news judgment is all a matter of opinion and resources. I wasn't able to cover Mayor Domenic Sarno's walk through the Hollywood section of the South End, which was happening at about the same time and I had no one to send. It was a deserving story for our Springfield edition, but I just couldn't swing it.

It is one of the truly disturbing conditions of this business that at a time people truly need to have access to local news that the media cannot be where it should be.

My blogging buddies do what they do out of a sense of true civic responsibility. They want their readers to know what's going on and are willing to donate their time and resources to do so. I think the world of them for taking up that cause.

Part of what makes our democracy work is access to fact and informed opinion. My greatest concern is too much of our national media is in the hands of too few owners who have exhibited the philosophy that less is certainly adequate.

Too much of what is packaged on television as "news" is simply punditry and not journalism.

It is especially frightening when the public accepts what is being offered them without many questions.

On the local level, we need news coverage, but that coverage has to be underwritten by advertising and many national chain stores have little interest in local print outlets.

Where all of this is going to go is the type of thing that keeps me awake at night.


The Springfield Public Library will be hosting a day of local authors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 12 at the main branch at 220 State St.

It should be a fun event and I hope you will consider coming. I felt privileged being asked to participate in the program and will be there from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.