Rail closure a painful reminder

It is pretty much official now.

Our low-end Amtrak train service, apparently the best our federal government can manage to provide, which serves as a testimonial to the past vast powers of the automotive industry, no longer lumbers through the state of Oregon.

Long gone are the days of fine dining, and passenger cars pulling into Ashland to remove or add locomotives, depending on their direction away or toward the mighty Siskiyou Pass and through the infamous Tunnel 13, where the DeAutremont brothers mixed dynamite and death to spark the first world-wide manhunt in 1923.

The advent of the Natron bypass in 1927 heralded in a less heady route through Klamath Falls and on to Eugene, leaving Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass mere cul-de-sacs in railroad history.

It would appear that a landslide near the town of Oakridge, along the Natron bypass, has buried the railroad tracks and brought mighty locomotives to a screeching halt. When I heard of this "natural disaster" my head began to twist like that of young Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," for reasons to be soon abundantly clear.

If you have ever flown in a small plane above Interstate-5 in Oregon you will immediately notice that the supposedly scenic drive is more a matter of deception than wonder. The taller of the remaining trees reach into the "wilderness" from the pavement for only a few hundred feet, there to be reduced to a desolation of weeds, brambles, detritus and monoculture of some tree that was cheap by the bucketful and met the then non-existent standards of forest diversity. What now remains as our heritage is an outrage and embarrassment which we seem destined to bequeath to future generations with the dull glare of a Stepford Wife's vision of the future.

Most of the population of residents, visitors and travelers know naught of the barren wasteland that has sprung forth from the loins of unbridled clear cutting, an absolutely non-renewable practice unless overseen by Helen Keller, who, by the way, was entirely too observant for such self-serving sylvan savagery.

Commenting on the mud slide officials talked about snowfall, winds, saturated soils, shifting tectonic plates, rumbles, grumbles, Mother Nature in curlers chasing after boulders with a giant roller pin and all manner of things that might have contributed to the "natural disaster," though there was one term that they avoided like a pandemic: Clear-cutting. It seems that a good portion of what slipped off the mountain had come from an area that had been clear-cut in 1992, a fact that was mentioned only in passing. It seems that when you are in the business of hauling finished lumber, it is not good to mention that a clear-cut had taken place where the mountain had collapsed, especially one that had gobbled up 60 acres of land and wiped out 1500 feet of track.

Yup, clearly a case of Force Majeure, meaning, if you read the lawyer's fine print, no one is to blame, lawsuits are out of the question and the 700,000 board feet of timber that took a ride down the mountain, uprooted by the mudslide, was a propitious windfall to the highest bidder.

While most of the industrialized nations on Earth underwrite high-speed trains as well as medical coverage for its citizens the United States has but a single high-speed run that uses an Acela train to connect Boston to Washington, D.C. Although it runs at speeds from 75 to 150 miles per hour, it is a snail compared to the real speed demons around the world.

Now that Amtrak will be closed from Los Angeles to Seattle for the next six weeks, let's dream about what rail could be in a land with no clear-cut plans, except for the timber you cannot see from the road.

Lance was last seen setting up his model train set while on the phone ranting about a new passenger train that could climb the Siskiyous with ease. To get his attention, kick him in the caboose at lance@journalist.com.

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