Monday, April 24, 2017

Jeff Morales has probably stomached enough lunacy

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Jeff Morales has probably stomached enough lunacy

For reasons unspecified other than he may have had enough of dealing with hostile politicians like Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rail Subcommittee, California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales announced April 21 he is stepping down as of June 2. Officially, he said it is time for him to move on, now that construction is under way on the $64 billion, voter-approved project.

Personally, I think Morales, 57, made a wise decision to preserve his health. Stress can do bad things to you, and no initiative, no matter how important and visionary, is worth ruining your physical and emotional well being over.

Morales told The San Francisco Chronicle that “uncertainty over the project’s future had nothing to do with his resignation, only a genuine desire to move aside after breaking ground on the nation’s largest infrastructure project. ‘We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, from being at a standstill to having $3 billion-plus of construction under way,’ he said. ‘Frankly, I didn’t think I’d be here for five years. I had no gray hair when I started the job. I have lots of it now.’”

The search for Morales’s successor is under way. Let someone else deal with the Neanderthals who want to keep this country’s passenger rail system stuck in the mid-20th century, while the rest of the developed world laughs as they look at us out the windows of their 200-mph trains.

Yet, we need that someone else who can pick up from where Jeff Morales left off and continue to fight the good fight against those who lack vision and are clueless as to the value of steel wheels rolling safely at tremendous speeds on vast ribbons of steel rail.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know—California’s bullet train is years behind schedule and billions over budget. But you know what? Che importa—who cares! Perhaps it was under-budgeted to begin with.

It seems as though, as a nation, we no longer have the desire to do great things, or the courage to devote financial resources to projects that may not turn a profit but will deliver social, environmental and economic benefits—better mobility, reduced airway and highway congestion, etc., etc. I’ve been writing about high speed rail for nearly 25 years. I hope I’ll get a chance to ride and write about an American high speed train before my time is up. If the past 25 years is any indication, I won’t hold my breath.

Some things are more important than making money, and I hope that there are people out there who realize that a myopic focus on the bottom line will keep us at the bottom, like a flounder, buried in the sand.

They're out there: people like John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 set us on a course to the moon—and all the technological advancements in computers and materials science that have come out of America’s space program and have benefited our society—with these words to Congress:

“Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but … this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

“I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals: First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Difficult and expensive. Why is that a bad thing? Again, as Kennedy said in another speech, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Message to the right wing: You really want to make America great? You really want to invest in this nation’s infrastructure (and I don’t mean building a useless border wall)? Then stop trying to squash transportation projects that make use of the words “passenger” and “rail” in their descriptions.

We can’t afford to do these types of things? We can’t afford not to.

William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

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