Amtrak has a video – accessible via the link above – about it’s first 40 years of operation
I first started to take an interest in US railways as a consequence of seeing Ludovic Kennedy’s Great Railway Journey program ‘Coast to Coast'(New York City to Los Angeles). It was a part of the original and classic series of BBC railway journeys that launched a whole new career for Micheal Palin.
Railways have always been in my blood because I was brought up in a Nottinghamshire mining town where railways were everywhere around you. The writing of Ludovic Kennedy, who penned many books in his long and fascinating life, has also been another great interest of mine, so bringing railways and Kennedy together in the classic first series of Great Railway Journeys of the World was a treat not to be missed. The series was first aired in 1980 and this particular episode opened my eyes to the American Railroad.
Most folks who remember this BBC series will probably recall the journey of Michael Palin from London to Kyle of Lochalsh by train but for me Kennedy’s journey across America on the recently formed Amtrak was a delight (not least because Bill Withers great song – Lovely Day – was a part of the soundtrack and Kennedy was a great Liberal thinker, writer and activist) and I became hooked on the railways of the USA. Here’s a part of the program on You Tube – sadly its rather poor quality both in sound and picture. And even more sadly the episode has never been released on video/dvd.
Oddly, and I’m not sure why, I have yet to ride on Amtrak or indeed any American train. The nearest I have got is riding on Via Rail in Canada.
Bizarrely, I actually encountered Ludovic Kennedy at a Liberal Democrat conference on one occasion when he was a very old man confined to a wheelchair. I say encounter as I literally fell over his wheelchair in a crush of people in the foyer of the conference venue. If memory serves this happened in Southport’s Floral Hall.
Today is World Humanist Day, a day of celebration set up in the 1990s. Humanism is not a religion. It is a world view based on secular values, common to any person regardless of nationality, race, culture, sexuality, gender or background. Its ethos is captured in the phrase – nothing to die for, everything to live for.
Humanism is growing across the world and often people lead a humanist life without realising it. The Guardian reported last month that, for the first time, in England and Wales those who identify as non-religious now outnumber Christians.
Sadly, many people still suffer stigma and discrimination for rejecting religion. In some countries atheism is illegal with secularists abused and killed for their lack of belief. Even in more moderate nations like the UK it can still be very difficult for atheists to ‘come out’ for fear of rejection by religious family members or colleagues.
Humanism looks to build a more humane society based on ethical values in a spirit of equality, enquiry and human achievement. Answers are found through science and human rendezvous not the supernatural. At its heart is the recognition that we get one life and everyone should be able to live it in peace.
So all of us atheists are humanists I presume whether we realise it or not. I have been an atheist for 40 years now and should you want to find out more about how one man lost his religion try reading Ludovic Kennedy’s book All in the Mind: A farewell to God.
Without having to think too deeply my life heroes will easily trip off my tongue; music – Isaac Hayes, cricket – Derek Randall and 2 Kennedy’s (Ludovic and Charles).
Isaac Hayes introduced me to soul and funk around 1970 and I never tire of listening to his music, especially when driving. To Be Continued must be the best of his albums; strings, brass and his deep southern cotton belt voice.
Derek Randall was the jack in a box Nottinghamshire cricketer who played many test matches for England. Probably the best fielder of his generation world-wide I loved to watch him on TV, although Geoff Boycott broke my heart when he ran Derek out at Trent Bridge!
But what about the 2 Kennedy blokes and no one was not a former President of the USA. My Kennedy chaps are Ludovic and of course Charles. Ludovic’s writings brought home to me two things, that our legal/justice system gets things horribly wrong at times and he opened my eyes (which were already hugely sceptical of religion) to being an atheist.
Charles Kennedy was probably the best left of centre political leader that we have seen in the UK in a very long time and like the former Truro MP David Penhaligon he did not seem to have a genuine enemy in the world. When Charles died earlier this year the world stopped and took notice for a moment. This was not just another party political hack that had died it was Charles Kennedy.
The link at the top of this posting is to a memorial lecture given by former Orkney and Shetland MP Jim Wallace in praise of Charles Kennedy. It is long but if you have the time it is worth the time.
I was taken with this media release which I recently picked up on and it took me back to one episode of the first series of that BBC programme called Great Railway Journeys of the World. The episode was called Coast to Coast and it followed Ludovic Kennedy as he crossed America by train in around 1980. It was probably the best programme from the original series and at one point Kennedy is talking to an aged railway man from America who gave a similar statistic to the one in this media release from Railfuture. Or the other way of saying it is ‘don’t get on the safe old train get in a car and kill yourself’!
Rail campaigners are praising an astonishing run of safety on Britain’s railways. Saturday the 23rd February will mark the sixth year in a row without a single passenger fatality in the UK.
“We congratulate the railway industry and its staff for continuing to run a safe railway for passengers” said Bruce Williamson of the group Railfuture. “There have only been two fatal accidents in the last ten years, the Grayrigg derailment in 2007 in which one person died, and at Ufton Nervet in 2004. That one was caused by a suicidal motorist who parked his car on a level crossing waiting for a train to kill him – hardly the railway’s fault. In other words, in ten years the rail industry has been responsible for just one passenger fatality – an astonishing and unprecedented run of safety. Of course, one death is one too many, and there is no room for complacency, but it does illustrate how spectacularly safe rail travel is”.
“This is in contrast to the roads where more passengers die on the roads in six hours than have died on Britain’s railways in the last six years.”
“There has not been a single fatal accident caused by a train driver since Ladbroke Grove in 1999 – because of better training, tougher recruitment standards for drivers and a new track safety system installed nationwide after Ladbroke Grove.”
Notes to editors
Railfuture is the UK’s leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight.
Railfuture’s website can be found at: http://www.railfuture.org.uk