The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 14, 1999


Is Anyone Not Confused?

Anyone who has been intimately involved with the financial planning this year will be glad to see the season draw to a close. It's been difficult for those involved and confusing, at best, for those who are trying to follow the issues.

Having a three-tiered override which includes items within the operating budget, as well as eight other items in six other Warrant Articles, had Town Meeting voters perplexed and scrambling. Because numbers were changing up until the last minute, providing correct advance information to voters was nearly impossible. Even after Town Meeting, many officials remained unclear as to the effect, if some items within a tier were approved and others were not. While we understand that officials were attempting to avoid pitting one department against another in a race for funding, the set-up this year is like running a maze, with the scary uncertainty of whether anyone knows the way out. The process needs to be simpler; there should be sufficient time to educate voters, and everyone should know the impact of the votes well in advance.

We at The Mosquito are grateful that a lack of preparedness forced a one-week delay in the election because it provided us with an additional week to provide post-Town Meeting and pre-election coverage. We understand that this is not an easy process to follow, but we hope that residents will take the time to ponder the information, the impact of the questions and then head to polls on Tuesday. Town Meeting voters had their say, but they are a relatively small percentage of the registered voters. Now it's time for all registered voters to speak their minds in setting funding priorities for the town.

Rail travel

At this writing, only a few rusted railroad rails remain within the borders of Carlisle. Probably few Carlisleans have expended much thought on proposals for ultra-high speed rail travel between Boston and points south. But for those who follow the fortunes of rail travel and who are concerned over congestion and pollution on the east coast, it is heartening to know that construction is actually proceeding on the electrification of the tracks between Boston and New Haven. Passengers should also begin to notice the effects of an overall linking-up and renewal process affecting the posts, cables, signals and catenary wire. The result should be a more reliable ground transportation system with more capacity for rapid acceleration at high speeds. This program amounts to a commitment to act against congestion and pollution at airports and highways, and to provide an alternative to enlarging Hanscom Air Base or adding lanes to the Mass Pike.

The type of electric power system to be applied here (high voltage single phase A/C) has long been in use, and trains propelled by it on the former Pennsylvania Railroad have frequently attained speeds of over 100 m.p.h. New devices, tested and proven in Spain and in Sweden, will adapt the cars to the numerous curves on the shoreline route, and the trains are expected to operate routinely at speeds up to 150 m.p.h.

The first publicized claim for a world record for rail speed seems to have been posted by the New York Central, which in 1993 reported a speed of 112.5 m.p.h. with its Empire State Express steam engine 999. A British locomotive, Mallard, appears to have set the permanent record for a reciprocal steam engine in 1938, at 126 m.p.h., An experimental German electric rail car reached a speed of 131 m.p.h. as early as 1903.

The world depression of the 1930s, accentuating a decline in passenger traffic, led both Germany and the United States to develop diesel locomotives (combined diesel-powered and electrically-controlled), with the Flying Hamburger running to Hamburg and other cities at speeds around 99 m.p.h., and a German aeropropeller-driven car reaching 124 m.p.h. (Thirty-five years later, jet engines pushed a conventional New York Central diesel rail car up to 181 m.p.h.)

In the United States, the Burlington Zephyr became the first of a fleet of diesel streamliners; even the Boston and Maine acquired a specimen Zephyr, first using it on the run to Portland and later in the 1940s on the Fitchburg line through Concord to Keene. After World War II, rail passenger service declined in the US, while the French and Japanese spent generously on improving electrically-powered trains. Japanese trains have reached a test speed of 155 m.p.h., while the French have set a record of 205 m.p.h. These latter records were made possible by full electrical power, a preferred power source in countries where oil is more expensive than in the U.S.

Aside from electricity's availability, it is a more efficient and less polluting fuel. Electric engines have the ability to absorb overloads for short periods, allowing higher average speeds.

In speaking of the Gulf War, former Secretary of State James Baker pointed out the sad truth that retaining access to oil is crucial to U.S. foreign and economic policy, making us vulnerable to the Saddams of this world. We are committed by our oil-based economy to congestion and pollution. Yet, with the development of high speed, coupled for example with facilities such as an enlarged 3,500-car garage at the Amtrak station on Route 128, we may yet learn to use trains to supplement autos and planes.


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito