December 26, 2019

"Getting There" - Driving to Florida by Train

Since 1971, you’ve been able to travel by train to Florida with your car, avoiding the mayhem of Interstate 95. And although the service is now run by Amtrak, it actually started as a private enterprise.

Trains carrying passengers and their cars have been used in Europe for decades, but in the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted a study of long distance rail travel to avoid the problems of the oil crisis.

In 1971, Eugene Garfield took the idea and started the Auto-Train Corporation, buying his own fleet of locomotives, Pullman sleepers, dome car-coaches and dining cars. Most important, he acquired 62 bilevel autorack cars. He set up shop in Lorton, Va., just south of Washington, and right off of I-95.

The train’s southern terminus was Sanford, Fla., near Orlando’s Disney World, which had opened months earlier. The overnight run was a popular alternative to the two-day drive, and soon a complementary service for folks from the Midwest started running from Louisville, Ky.

That additional train didn’t draw the expected crowds and, combined with climbing crew costs and a few derailments, the private Auto-Train Corp. was in bankruptcy by April 1981.

After a couple of years with no service, Amtrak stepped in, acquiring the stations and some of the rolling stock. Eventually the older “Heritage Fleet” passenger coaches and sleepers were replaced with double-deck Superliner cars and the old autoracks were updated to 80 enclosed car-carriers, each carrying 10 vehicles. There’s also a special area for motorcycles.

Passengers heading north or south must be at the departure station by 2 p.m. when the cars are loaded. Passengers board a half-hour later and the trains depart at 4 p.m. With 18 passenger cars and 33 car-carriers, the train is almost three-quarters of a mile long, making it the longest passenger train in the world.

At midnight, the northbound and southbound trains meet in Florence, S.C., for refueling and crew change before continuing on through the night. The total 855-mile trip takes 17.5 hours, arriving the next morning at 8:30 a.m. Within a couple of hours, the last of the cars is unloaded and you’re on your way.

Pricing depends on the size of your car, how many passengers and the type of accommodation. But looking at the Amtrak website about a month in advance, transport of the car would cost $258 (motorcycle $146) and anywhere from $89 to $280 per coach passenger. Or you could opt for a roomette ($455), family bedroom ($561) or Superliner bedroom ($647) — all prices one-way.

Prices vary with demand and sleeping car space sells out fast, despite the high price, as many Auto Train loyalists can’t or won’t fly or have mobility issues.

Sleeping car passengers’ meals are included in their fares, while coach passengers can BYO or dine in the AmCafe. In January, much of the service will be “enhanced,” says the railroad.

In addition to autos, the train will soon accommodate SUVs, vans, small boats or Jet Skis. More sleepers will be added and a variety of food trucks will cater coach passengers needs before departure.

So if you’re a “snow bird,” consider the Auto Train. It sure beats driving on I-95.
Jim Cameron is a founder of the Commuter Action Group and former chair of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. A veteran television journalist, he writes about transportation issues facing Connecticut commuters.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

"Getting There" - The Dymaxion Car

Did you know that Bridgeport was once the home of “the car of the future”?  It was the Tesla of its era, but only three were ever built.

This mystery vehicle?  The Dymaxion Car.  The designer?  Buckminster Fuller.

Best known for his pioneering 1940’s architectural design of the geodesic dome, a decade earlier Fuller was already inventing other things.  It was the 1930’s and the country was struggling through the Depression.  Fuller saw the need for innovation, for “doing more with less”, and conceived of a mass-produced, pre-fabricated circular house modeled after a grain silo.

Built with aluminum, Fuller only saw two prototypes of the dwelling constructed and even they weren’t actually built until 1945.  Fuller called his design The Dymaxion House… Dy for Dynamic, Max for Maximum and Ion for tension. It was a major flop.

Next Fuller moved on to transportation, conceiving of The Dymaxion Car, an 11 person, three wheeled vehicle that he hoped might one day would even be able to fly using what he called “jet stilts”… and this was decades before the invention of the jet engine.

Indeed, The Dymaxion Car looked a lot like a stubby zeppelin with a forward-facing cockpit and tapered, aerodynamic tail.  Equipped with a rear-mounted engine that could run on alcohol, it could go 90 mph and get 30 miles to the gallon.  The car had dual steel frames while a wooden lattice work held the outside aluminum panels in place.  The single rear wheel could pivot 90 degrees making parking a breeze.

Bankrolled with $5000 from wealthy investor and socialite Philip Pearson of Philadelphia, Fuller needed a place to build a prototype and ended up at the old Locomobile plant on Atlantic Street in Bridgeport’s Tongue Point neighborhood.  Don’t bother looking for this piece of history.  It’s long gone as the land is now home to the PG&E power plant.

When Fuller set up the auto workshop in March 1933 he hired naval architect Starling Burgess who recruited 27 workmen, many of them from Rolls Royce, from the 1000 applications he received.  In just three months the first prototype was completed and rolled out onto the streets of Bridgeport on Fuller’s 38th birthday.  The car was immediately shipped to Chicago for display at the World’s Fair.

Sadly, the prototype was totaled after it was involved in a car crash, flipped over and killed its driver and left VIP passengers injured.  Initial orders for the Dymaxion started to evaporate over safety fears even though it turns out the Fuller car had been sideswiped.

A second prototype emerged from the Bridgeport plant six months later.  Fuller had hoped to display the Dymaxion at the 1934 New York Auto Show but pressure from Chrysler locked him out, literally.  Not to be outdone, Fuller parked prototype #2 right by the front door of the show and got more attention than he might have on the exhibit floor.

Fuller even brought the car back for the last year of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934 but public curiosity didn’t turn into sales.  Fuller eventually sold this second prototype to his plant workers while a third model, this one equipped with a stabilizing vertical fin, went to conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Only one of the three Dymaxions survived… car #2, which is now at an auto museum in Reno NV.  But Bucky Fuller fans have built replicas, some of which are still on the roads today 80 years later.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

December 11, 2019

"Getting There" - Why Are Trucks on the Parkways?

Hardly a week goes by that an over-height truck and a low-slung bridge on the Merritt Parkway have a close encounter of the worst kind:  a collision.

The King Street bridge in Greenwich has been hit 150 times in the last decade, 24 times last year alone.  Despite $1.8 million in warning devices installed to prevent these strikes, they keep happening.
All of the bridges on the Merritt Parkway, originally built to a minimum standard of eleven feet at the abutments, are too low for trucks.  In some places the bridges are even lower due to roadbed re-grading. The road just wasn’t designed for anything but passenger cars.
Trucks aren’t the only vehicles banned from the parkways.  So too are RV’s, cars towing trailers, buses, hearses (in funeral processions) and all commercial vehicles. That includes any vehicle with advertising or logos on it, even passenger cars with “Combi” (combination passenger and commercial) plates.
But we know those trucks are there.  We see them all the time.  So why aren’t they getting ticketed?
The CT State Police tell me it’s an issue of priorities.  They only have two troopers patrolling the Merritt Parkway per shift and their hands are full handling speeders, traffic accidents, drug busts etc.  But they still manage to issue a few tickets per shift to the illicit truckers.
The problem is, it’s only a $92 ticket for violating the prohibited vehicles warning signs at every entrance.  That’s not much of a deterrent.  A bill last year to raise that penalty to $500 never made it to a vote in the legislature.
The old “Prohibited” signs were hardly noticeable and were wordy and confusing.  So CDOT has just changed out all the signs to something simpler, more colorful and attention-getting.  Maybe they’ll help.
But even where more sophisticated warning systems employing lasers, blaring horns and flashing lights are in place, bridges still get struck. Blame the drivers.
Many drivers say their GPS for directing them onto the parkways, so some insurance companies are offering financial incentives for fleet owners who use “smart GPS” designed for commercial drivers which will warn drivers of over-height vehicles to stay away.  But if you’re using a regular GPS unit or an app like WAZE, you’re out of luck.
When a truck does strike a bridge there are consequences.  In addition to often ripping the roof off the vehicle, the troopers also call in their Truck Squad which can issue thousands of dollars in fines if they find other violations regarding the weight of the vehicle, the driver’s log etc.
And as with motor vehicle accidents on any state road, if you damage one of the Merritt Parkway’s historic bridges or knock over a sign, your insurance company is going to pay.
Usually, when an over-height truck strikes one of the Merritt’s 40 concrete underpasses, the truck loses.  But any damage to these historic bridges, many of them recently restored, can take months to get repaired. Not to mention the incredible backups and delays from these accidents. 
When the Merritt Parkway opened in 1940, the speed limit was 40 mph and it was designed to carry 18,000 vehicles a day.  These days, outside of the bumper-to-bumper rush hours, the average speed is 73 mph and the parkway handles 90,000 vehicles per day. That’s enough.
We must reject continuing efforts to open this scenic byway to trucks. They just don’t belong there.

​Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

December 04, 2019

"Getting There" - Tales from the Trail

Twenty-three year old Diana Jackson just walked 2192 miles. 

The Darien native is one of over 3300 people each year who try to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (AT), from Georgia to Maine.  But she’s one of the 25% of them that complete the task.

She learned to hike with her parents in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and at age seven announced her goal of making the entire trek.  Her parents humored her, but on graduation from Wellesley College in 2018 she got serious and spent six months in preparation. “I think of this as my gap year”, she said.

“I have a tendency of psyching myself out,” she says, so she didn’t read too many books about the dangers of the adventure.  But she did drop a lot of money on a tent, sleeping bag and the first of four pairs of hiking boots… each replaced as it wore out.

Starting in late March south of Springer Mountain in Georgia, on her first night it rained and she got soaked.  Crude shelters are maintained by volunteers along the trail, but they are first come, first served and the early Spring nights were as cold in Georgia as the October nights when she finished in Maine.

If she was lucky she’d find a hostel just off the trail where for $25 a night she could get a bunk.  But most nights her dehydrated dinners heated over her camp stove were her cuisine of choice. Her trail name was “Little Debbie” in homage to her favorite snack. But over six months she lost 40 pounds.

Her backpack weighed 45 pounds, yet she was able to average about 20 miles of walking each day.

In most places the AT is described as “the green tunnel” but in others there are serious mountains to climb and rivers to cross (some without bridges).  She relied on an app called Guthook, named after a hiker, which used GPS to keep on the trail and leading her to drinkable water, shelters and hostels.  At least once a day she could find a cell signal to let her family know where she was and how she was doing.

Twice she suffered injuries, falling face first and hurting her knee.  She was all alone and without her usual first aid kit so she just kept going, “pushing through the pain” until she could find help.

By the end of October she could see her goal in sight, 5267 foot Mount Katahdin in northern Maine, the end of the AT. But it took her a couple of days to reach the summit, alternately crying, laughing and filled with joy.  Her parents joined her for the final climb, though she put them on a slightly easier trail.

After the victory came the inevitable letdown but also some important life lessons.  “I had always doubted myself,” she says.  “But now I know I can do anything.”

She’s no longer jealous of classmates with high paying jobs.  “I can join the corporate world anytime, but now, when I’m young, is the time to live this dream. The trail is the happiest place for me.” As well as the beauties of nature, she misses the camaraderie of her fellow hikers.

She’s already setting her sights on a new goal for 2021: walking the 2600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

November 27, 2019

"Getting There" - 2020 Hindsight

As we review the details of Governor Lamont’s CT2030 transportation plan, I have a strange sense of déjà vu.  Haven’t we been through all this before?

Journey back with me to 1999 when the famous Gallis Report warned that southwestern Connecticut’s transportation woes were strangling the entire state.  If something wasn’t done, they warned, we would become “an economic cul de sac” in the burgeoning northeast.

The solution?  Yet another study, this one undertaken by Wilbur Smith Associates for SWRPA, the SouthWest Regional Planning Agency (now part of WestCOG). The report specifically looked at “congestion mitigation”, i.e. doing something about our traffic problems.

The $903,000 report was submitted in February 2003 and was titled “Vision 2020”.  You see the pattern… Vision 2020 morphs into CT2030?

Rereading the report I am struck with its many good ideas, a few of which actually came to pass:

Land Use Review:   The idea of T.O.D. (transit oriented development) has been embraced throughout the state with towns and cities planning for dense (hopefully car-free) developments near transit hubs.

More Rail Station Parking:   Also some progress, though many towns still have a 6+ year wait for annual permits.  And 20 years ago who’d have even imagined apps like Boxcar or Uber?

More Bike & Pedestrian Options:    We now have more sidewalks and bike paths as well as bike racks on buses and Metro-North.

But other “low hanging fruit” ideas still haven’t happened, like…

·       FlexTime, Staggered Work Hours and Vanpools to lighten the rush hour.  Next time you’re stuck in traffic look around:  it’s almost all SOV’s (single occupancy vehicles).

·       A “Smart Card” universally accepted for payment on all public transit.  And free transfers from buses to trains.

·       A “Weigh In Motion” system to monitor trucks without long queues at seldom-open weigh stations.

But never addressed were the big (expensive) ideas like:

·       Ramp metering, like they have in California, to stop cars from piling onto I-95 at will adding to the crush.

·       Closing some interchanges to make I-95 a truly interstate highway, not a local shortcut.
·       Adding a “zipper lane” to I-95 heading west in the AM and east in the PM… with tolls!
·       Running BRT (bus rapid transit) along the Route One corridor

·       Double tracking the Danbury branch of Metro-North.

·       Start a “feeder barge” system to bring shipping containers from NJ to New England by water, not truck.

·       Resume rail freight service by adding a rail bridge across the Hudson River.
·       Widen I-84 and Route 7 to four lanes.

·       Study the idea of high speed ferry service along the coast.

Haven’t we heard all this before?  How many of these ideas are posed again Lamont’s CT2030?  A Lot of them.

We are not lacking in ideas, just political will.  For decades the legislature has been unwilling to commit resources to our transportation infrastructure and economic future, instead wasting millions on more and more studies of the same problems.

All of these big ideas take money… big money.  But the “No Tolls CT” folks have tapped into residents’ cynicism that anything in terms of new revenue will be misspent.  And they’ve so intimidated lawmakers with threats of “Vote for Tolls, Lose at the polls” that even the bravest members can’t muster the courage to do the right thing.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

November 18, 2019

"Getting There" - Super Trains

What do Ayn Rand, Hollywood and Adolph Hitler have in common?

They all dreamt of building super-trains!

Maybe it was because their visions for giant, high-speed trains came before the era of cheap flights moving large numbers of people over great distances, but each of them had a grandiose vision of fast, luxurious rail travel.

In her 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged”, Rand made the construction of a coast-to-coast train, “The Taggart Comet”, central to the plot of her dystopian America set some time in the future.  In an era of crumbling infrastructure, the construction of an eight mile long rail-tunnel under the continental divide saw mismanagement lead to a fatal passage, killing all on board.

Fast forward 22 years and NBC was still dreaming of high-speed, transcontinental rail travel, this time on “Supertrain”.  This fictitious nuclear-powered cruise-ship-on-rails would zoom from New York to Los Angeles in 36 hours at a cruising speed of 190 mph.

Equipped with a swimming pool, disco, infirmary and shopping center, the dreamt-of double-decker train was so big it had to run on a broad-gauge track.  One-way tickets in a roomette were $450.

The life-sized set for the show’s shooting looked tacky, and the few cutaway shots of the $10 million Supertrain scale-model cruising across the country were unconvincing.  Of course, the show wasn’t about the train but the people who rode it, like a “Loveboat” on land.  The vision of TV mogul Fred Silverman, the show was a disaster and lasted only one season.

Mind you, by 1979 when Supertrain was taking to air, Amtrak was debuting its own double-deck long distance trains, dubbed Superliners.  The cars still run today on such trains as The Empire Builder (Seattle to Chicago) and the California Zephyr (San Francisco to Chicago).  But these trains are more ballast than bullet, with a (rarely achieved) top speed of 100 mph.  And though they do offer a dining car and glass-topped observation lounge, there is no pool or disco.

What inspired Rand, NBC and Amtrak to such rail dreams?  It might have been Adolph Hitler.

Early during World War II, Hitler was thinking and building big.  Berlin was to be rebuilt as Welthauptstadt Germania, capital of the world. And to move people across conquered Europe, the network of Autobahns was to be complimented with the Breitspurbahn, translated as broad-gauge railroad, with trains twice as wide as standard gauge.

The locomotives’ designs ranged from traditional steam to gas turbine, but the rail cars would make Supertrain pale in comparison.  Each double-deck car would be 138 feet long, 20 feet wide and 23 feet tall, the size of a small house.

The train would be a third of a mile long carrying 2000 to 4000 passengers at 120 mph.  On board would be a 196-seat cinema, barbershop, sauna and a dining car for 176.  Daytime and night seating (and sleepers) would be offered in three classes.  Additionally a single car could carry up to 450 slave laborers.  There was also room for several 20 mm anti-aircraft guns.

Hitler had a team of 100 top engineers working on the railroad’s design right up until the end of the war, though a prototype was never built.

Today we have any number of super-fast trains, but none as large as earlier generations had imagined.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

"Getting There" - Coffee, Tea ... or E-Coli

You should never drink coffee or tea prepared on an airplane:  you may get very sick.

That’s the bottom line to recent studies (by Hunter College’s NYC Food Safety Center) of the safety of airplanes’ water tanks which, it turns out, can be harboring some nasty contaminants such as e coli and coliform.  Some suggest you shouldn’t even wash your hands in on-board water.

Airlines are only required to flush and clean their on-board water tanks four times a year.  But when they fly to exotic destinations and get serviced between flights, they take on local water which may not meet US standards.  The tanks aren’t emptied and cleaned, just topped-off, leaving the nasty stuff at the bottom. And those tanks can often sit long periods (think overnight) between fillings.

The airlines say there isn’t time between flights to do more than clean the cabin, off-load and load baggage and get their expensive jets back in the air, making money.

Back in 2011 the EPA instituted the Airline Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) which was to “ensure that safe and reliable drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew.”  But a year later, one in ten aircraft tested still showed signs of coliform.

Coliform itself won’t make you sick but it’s often a sign of other dangerous bacteria lurking in your drinks: viruses, protozoa and multicellular parasites.

Some airlines, like Southwest which has one of the best water safety records, disinfect their tanks with ozone.  But while OCDC flyers may swab their seatback tables with disinfectant wipes, there’s not much they can know (or do) about those hidden water tanks… or your fellow passengers spewing germs into the recirculated air.  Maybe you should bring a surgical mask, too?

It’s also not very reassuring to learn that the EPA has rarely, if ever, levied a fine against those airlines failing inspections.  Even airlines failing quarterly water sample tests don’t have to shut down their water use for 24 hours.  Huh?

The Hunter College study ranked the top ten domestic airlines’ water safety.  Top scores for the cleanest water went to Alaska and Allegiant with scores of 3.3 on a scale of 5 (where 5 is best).  The major carriers like Delta, American and United and got scores of 1.6, 1.5 and 1.2  respectively.  At the bottom of the rankings, with scores of just 1, were JetBlue and Spirit.

You absolutely need to hydrate, especially on longer flights, but you should either BYO bottled water or drink the airlines’ water distributed in flight, but only if it’s bottled.  That coffee or tea you’re offered in-flight is not made with bottled water.  Plus, the caffeine in tea or coffee only dehydrates you further.

On the railroads I can remember the olden days when rail passengers could get water from a cooler in each car, quaffing their thirst with tiny, triangular paper cups dispensed next to the spigots.  Not anymore.  Amtrak even reminds passengers not to drink restroom sink water.

On Metro-North there are no water spigots, though each train does carry emergency “boxed” water in case of a breakdown and lengthy delays.  But even those supplies have a five year safety limit.

Bottom line:  don’t be paranoid but do be safe.  Bring your own water, even if it means carrying any empty bottle through TSA for filling at a water fountain.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

November 04, 2019

"Getting There" - The Folly of Fast Ferries

Just when I thought Governor Lamont was getting it together to launch a thoughtful, considered “take two” on his transportation vision… bam!  Along comes another nonsensical idea.

It wasn’t enough that he tried to sell us on the zany, physically / fiscally impossible 30-30-30 vision of faster train speeds, now he is (literally) refloating the idea of “high speed” ferry service from Bridgeport and Stamford to NYC.

Such ferry service wouldn’t take cars off of I-95.  Those drivers aren’t going where the ferry does.  And if they haven’t already opted for the train, why would they ever take a ferry?

As my Hearst colleague Kaitlyn Krasselt reported, the lure of Federal funding is what’s getting the Lamont team to revisit the often studied, always rejected idea of aquatic commutation.  Since 2006 I have written about why ferries will never work here.  But let me remind you of the high points:

·       “High speed” ferries aren’t fast.  They can only go 29 mph in open waters, half the speed of a Metro-North train.  Speeds in excess of 30 mean higher operating costs for additional highly skilled crew.

·       They only carry 149 passengers (vs 1000 on a train) and are gas-guzzling polluters (vs clean electric trains). 

·       A fleet of two such ferries might make two round-trips a day (vs every-20 minute rush hour trains).

·       They can’t operate in all weather.

·       The fares would be at least double those of the train and they’d still need huge subsidies to attract operators.

NY State and Federal subsidies of $4.7 million were wasted on a ferry from Yonkers to NYC which ran for four years.  At its peak it carried just 90 passengers a day paying $8 each way… subsidized at $50 per ride.

Or consider Glen Cove LI’s experience with failed ferries.

In 2001 that bedroom community just 28 miles from NYC on the LIRR, began ferry service to NYC at fares pretty close to those charged on the train.  It failed after a year due to low ridership and despite $1 million subsidy by the MTA.

In the “summer of hell” in 2017 when track work at Penn station delayed trains, the service resumed with two boats each rush hour carrying fewer than 80 passengers between them.  The subsidies for the July to September runs totaled over $1.5 million.  That’s a $257 subsidy per passenger per trip.

In 2016 Glen Cove built a stylish new ferry terminal and dock costing $16.6 million using a Federal grant.  But aside from the summer of 2017, the city has been unable to find a ferry operator to resume service.

So guess what:  the Fed’s asked for their money back.

Glen Cove had until January 2019 to resume ferry service or refund Washington its money.  After an extension, the city Council voted 4-3 to hire a new, heavily subsidized ferry operator… not because they liked their proposal but because the alternative of paying back $16 million was even worse.

So if the Lamont transportation team is so excited about using Federal money to study, build or even start a private – public partnership for ferry service from Connecticut they should consider the consequences.  Federal money may seem “free”, but if it locks you into a money-losing, heavily subsidized, under-utilized fast ferry for Fat Cats going to Wall Street, the long-term cost could be huge.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

October 27, 2019

"Getting There" - Reading Old Timetables

I love reading timetables.  Not the new ones on smartphone apps, but the old printed ones.  Reading about a train or plane’s journey on paper is almost like taking the ride itself.

Growing up in Canada I was fascinated with the two major passenger railroads, the quasi-government owned “crown corporation” Canadian National Railroad (CNR) and the private Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR).  Both ran transcontinental trains from Montreal and Toronto to Vancouver, a journey of 70+ hours… if they were on time.

I wondered why the CPR’s streamliner “The Canadian” left Toronto at 4:15 pm while its CNR competitor “The Super Continental” left at 6 pm.  And why did the CNR’s later-leaving train arrive 4 hours earlier into Vancouver than the CPR’s?   Reading the 31 stop itinerary explained why:  they took much different routes through the Canadian Rockies.  The CPR’s more southerly, scenic route was the highlight of the trip so they timed the journey for daylight hours.

Canada has two official languages, English and French, so it was by reading those timetables I learned that “quotidien” meant daily, “repas” meant meal and “douane” translated as customs, as in crossing an international border.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m still intrigued with old New Haven Railroad timetables, comparing that crack (private) railroad’s speeds with those of present-day Metro-North and Amtrak.  How did the New Haven make it from New Haven to Penn Station in 90 minutes while it today takes Amtrak 109 minutes?

But old timetables contain more than train times.  They also talk about the entire travel experience.

Did it really (in 1955) cost just $7.75 to go from Boston to NY in coach ($14 in a lower berth, $13 in an upper)?  The old timetables also list the trains’ “consists”… what kind of rail cars made up each run: coaches, Pullmans, Parlor-Lounge car (some equipped with two-way radio telephones) and diners.

On the aviation side I remember when airlines published their own timetables too, often promoting their advanced aircraft:  American airline’s 707 Astrojet, United’s DC-8 Mainliner and Braniff Airlines “Conquistador” DC-6

The illustrations were always of well-dressed travelers smiling as they boarded their planes using ground-stairs, long before airports had jetways.  The seating looked roomy and comfortable as well-coiffed stewardesses served elaborate meals.

But the grand-daddy of all airline timetables was the OAG, the Official Airlines Guide, a phone-booked-sized (look it up, kids) compendium of every flight in the country.  As a one-time road warrior I even subscribed to the “pocket” version which was about an inch thick.  Miss a flight?  Your OAG would show you the alternatives.

What I enjoyed most reading the OAG’s railroad-style timetable wasn’t the flight times, and later, the on-time performance percentage, but the kind of aircraft used on each flight.  I took a liking to TWA’s iconic L-1011’s and avoided American’s DC-10’s after the deadly 1979 crash at O’Hare.

And after 9/11 I always opted for any airline flying Airbus equipment.  The reason?  The 9/11 terrorists had gone to flight school to learn how to fly traditional “yolk” flight controls, but only the airlines’ own simulators could train pilots on the Airbus fly-by-wire joystick controls:  i.e., Airbus jets were not going to get hijacked.  Or so I hoped.

Today there are no paper timetables.  All the information is online and on my phone… handy, but not as romantic.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media


In my college days I did some strange stuff… like driving all night from Chicago to NYC, hitting 75 mph on Interstate 80, just me and the tr...