Friday, November 26, 2010

The "Tommy G. Thompson" Ain't What Is Used To Be

Remember when Tommy Thompson was Mr. Amtrak? And a national spokesman for high-speed passenger rail?

Now he's the guy who fell into line behind Scott Walker's cancellation of inter-city rail service between Milwaukee and Madison - - and who was once Amtrak's board chairman, and who had the honor of having an Amtrak locomotive named after himself - - sample picture, here - -  and who hoped to be named Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, also won a national award on the subject in 1999 for, as his citation reads:

"Encouraging bi-partisan support for nationwide intercity passenger rail."

You want more sad irony about how far ol' locomotive #182 has run off its tracks?

Here's the organization's statement on the day it honored its hero: 

April 21, 1999 

"The National Association of Railroad Passengers tomorrow (Thursday) will present the George Falcon Golden Spike Award to the Governor of Wisconsin and Chairman of the Amtrak Board, Tommy G. Thompson. The award will be presented at the Association's annual Washington reception, at the Columbus Club in Union Station, at about 6:15 pm.

The Award honors Governor Thompson as a "champion" of "intercity passenger rail improvements nationwide" and for his recognition of the need for a true national system, and notes that he has devoted an "impressive amount of his work as Chairman of Amtrak."

NARP President John R. Martin, who will present the award, said, "we particularly appreciate Governor Thompson's effective, persuasive and tireless efforts in carrying to Congress the message that passenger rail enjoys broad, bipartisan support. The Governor also deserves much of the credit for instituting a state passenger rail program in Wisconsin and for that state’s leadership role in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Equally important, he continues to advance the concept of giving all states the flexibility to spend their federal transportation funds on passenger rail."

(NARP is a non-profit, non-partisan, independent membership group dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of rail travel.)

Haven't heard enough?

Read Tommy's 11/1/2001 remarks at the locomotive-naming ceremony, which he said was one of the greatest moments of his life.

I will bold-face some sentences.

"Thank you so very much, (Amtrak CEO and President) George Warrington. This is one of the greatest honors of my life, and your very kind words make it all the more meaningful. It was a pleasure to serve with you on the Amtrak board, and your leadership continues to be extraordinary.

It's also wonderful to see my friends Sylvia de Leon and Amy Rosen of the Amtrak board, and thank you for the very generous comments. Working with you was a pleasure, and I appreciate your coming to join me on this special day.

In politics, you get a lot of awards and citations. But to have an engine named for me is something that touches me very deeply. I have a model of the "Governor Tommy Thompson" on my desk at the Department of Health and Human Services, and every time I see it, I'm reminded of why I love Amtrak and trains and why I'm so passionate about America's railways.

My love for railroads is rooted in my Wisconsin heritage. In my great home state, the first railroad was chartered in 1847.

In the words of historian Joseph Ranney, railroads in Wisconsin "made Wisconsin's cities and rural areas interdependent, and they enabled Wisconsin to move from a frontier economy to a diversified agricultural and industrial economy."

That was certainly true of my hometown of Elroy. Elroy was a rail hub early in its history and I grew up listening to the sounds of trains coming through.

There's something haunting about the sound of a train in the night. As a boy, it fired my imagination and inspired a sense of wonderful mystery. Thinking of where a train might be going . of what I would see as I traveled . of what I would find at the end of the line . all those things created within me a passion for rail travel that's never diminished.

Trains have been important to me, but they have been decisive in the history of our country. Abraham Lincoln, my great hero, was an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad before he became President, and as President he signed the Pacific Railway Act, which created the Union Pacific Railroad Company and authorized it to build a railroad from Nebraska to western Nevada.

At the same time, the Central Pacific was authorized to build a line from the Pacific Coast.
In 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, the lines met. And the rest is history.

Railroads united a country and they brought us together as a people. Ranchers could ship cattle raised on the prairie to Chicago butchers . who would then ship meat to the great cities of the East. Whether you're talking about West Virginia coal, Oregon wheat or Wisconsin lumber, the rails made America prosper.

They also let people travel in safety and comfort. They enabled families to begin new lives . businesses to flourish ... and communities to grow.

But America's railway system is not just a matter of history. America still needs a strong passenger rail system. Without it, we discourage economic growth in urban areas. Passenger rail - and specifically, high- speed rail - is important to the economic growth of our cities and our overall transportation system in a nation of nearly 300 million people.
In Wisconsin and in eight other states, work continues on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. In Wisconsin, the goal is to have high-speed service from Madison to Milwaukee by the end of 2003.

In corridors throughout the country - California, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest - states and Amtrak are planning other high- speed rail services that will help grow the economy.

My friends, I know you share my belief that we must create a world-class, high-speed passenger rail system. Together, we need to spread that message around the country. We need to work together to take our message beyond the rail community and help officials in at the local, state and federal levels understand the need for passenger rail. 

Transportation is an essential component of our country's economy. And at a time of national crisis, safe and rapid rail travel becomes a matter of national security. We have to spread that message to policymakers on Capitol Hill and to ordinary citizens who have deserve a rail system as safe, secure, efficient and dependable as we can make it.
Amtrak is committed to providing a high-quality, attractive service in corridors throughout the nation.

Acela is becoming a model for success that we hope to replicate in many regions. And we need to show our passion for this issue because it truly offers a dynamic new way of dealing with our increasingly crowded roadways and air terminals.

It was Abraham Lincoln who reminded us of the need to always communicate accurately and forcefully the things we believe most deeply. As he put it, "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."

The "real facts" are that we need stable rail beds . high-speed passenger rail . competitive shipping rates . and a comprehensive rail system that is second to none in the world. 

Let me close by again thanking you for honoring my family and me with "The Governor Tommy G. Thompson."

I'm so very humbled by this honor, and will never forget it.

Thank you again so very much. God bless you all."


Rolf Wulfsberg said...

You don't have to dig back as far as 1999 to find Tommy Thompson, the friend of passenger rail. As recently as January, in response to Wisconsin getting the ARRA grant:

Through a spokesperson, Thompson said he was "pleased" with the federal government's commitment to expanding Wisconsin's high speed rail infrastructure.

Special Bonus Quote from the same story!

Wisconsin manufacturers and commerce spokesperson James Buchen said the new corridor will open doors to opportunities across our border.

"It facilitates face to face communication and interaction between businesspeople: Madison; Milwaukee; Chicago. I think it will facilitate more transactions and commerce involving the Chicago region."

enoughalready said...

Thompson's rail remarks would have made for a killer ad during the gubernatorial campaign, don't you think?