Marcia Neugebauer
Marcia Neugebauer

Marcia Neugebauer, president of the Arizona Senior Academy, will deliver the last of three summer lectures touching on American railroads next Thursday (Aug. 22) with an examination of how lessons learned in the “railroad revolution” might apply to some of today’s political issues..

Neugebauer, a prominent NASA physicist who has made important contributions to our understanding of the solar wind and was once named “California Woman Scientist of the Year,” will bolster her talk with insights gained from the book, “The Great Railroad Revolution,” by transportation expert Christian Wolmer.

Wolmer and most other authorities will tell you that America was made by railroads. The opening of the first American rail line in the 1830s sparked a revolution in carrying capacity, speed and convenience that united far-flung parts of the country.

Great Railway Revolution book cover cropBy the end of the 19th Century, U.S. territory was a vast latticework of tracks, small town stations, majestic city terminals and rolling stock support facilities.  And these ubiquitous railways were conveniently connected to waterborne transportation at ports of all sizes, which gave Americans in every part of the country global reach.

But by the middle of the 20th Century, the automobile and the airplane became the dominant modes of long-distance travel for people.  While freight operations, especially for weighty bulk cargos, have continued apace, removing people from the equation virtually erased the railroads’ vital importance from our national consciousness. Even their extraordinary glamor and romance has faded.

The rail systems of old need to be remembered for important lessons-learned that will remain relevant to future generations, Wolmer writes.

Neugebauer’s talk, which begins at 3:30 p.m., will summarize what Wolmer’s book says using slides that include statistics, diagrams, pictures and maps.

She says she will focus on parts of the book she found particularly interesting, such as how negative reactions to the unbridled capitalism involved in the railroads eventually resulted in over-regulation, which, in turn caused the rail system great harm.  This lesson in particular, that a healthy political balance required to govern critical technology can be very hard to specify and even harder to enact, clearly has huge contemporary relevance.

Submitted by Stan Davis, Academy Village Volunteer

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Railroad History has Lessons for Today : aug. 2013