‘Dump the Pump Day’: What I see

Grand Canyon Railway steam loco and company
Grand Canyon Railway steam loco and company

National Dump the Pump Day is just two days away but today’s story begins in Maryland in the mid-Atlantic port city of Baltimore, only in 1828, for it was right about then that the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad came to be. Just for your information, at about the time I arrived on scene in 1953, railroad mainline steam was becoming an anachronism and such was on its way out, while, for diesel-electric locomotion, a new day was dawning.

For 120 years between the late 1820s and late 1940s post World War II, American railroading, for all intents and purposes, remained essentially unchanged. It seemed unstoppable.

Like the streetcar systems that began unraveling beginning about the mid-to-late 1920s and early ‘30s, and fell like Dominos, that is, one after another, the American mainline freight and passenger railroad machine, beginning in the ‘50s found itself in a similar predicament. But unlike the electric street railway network which, for the most part, all but bit the dust, heavy freight and passenger rail refused to call it quits. American railroad enterprise mettle would definitely be put to the test – no question.

If the ‘50s were bad, in this regard, the ‘60s were worse.

Cars, trucks, buses and planes all had made inroads. Even so and even though railroading had become a faltering proposition and railroad bankruptcies seemed the order of the day, this by no means meant defeat (definitely a good thing). And, here too, if there was any one thing for the industry that saved the day it would be American railroading’s unfailing resolve not to go down without a fight. (For more on this, see: “CATS: Diesel-electric versus pure electric train operations – pros and cons”).


On May 1, 1971 the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, began dispatching passenger trains, keeping alive for the time being at least nationwide passenger train service, even if slimmed down considerably compared to its former glory days. When that happened I was in my final year of high school and soon to graduate.

That Amtrak was formed was also a good thing, in my view, because in relatively short order the country would be in the throes of a gas crisis the likes of which I believe the nation had never known except, for maybe, during the Great Depression of the late ‘30s when times were really lean. For those who remember, another gas crunch would both take shape and its toll before the decade was through.

The ‘70s, ending with my relocating to California and with gas rationing the order of the day, my answer was to purchase a utility vehicle due to my being able to purchase gasoline on any day of the week. Those owning standard – non-utility – motor vehicles were limited to purchasing gas only on Mondays-Wednesday-Fridays or Tuesdays-Thursdays-Saturdays depending upon whether their license plates ended in an even or odd number. Having the utility vehicle made sense although gas mileage had a lot to be desired. So, it was a definite trade-off.

Which reminds me, in California’s San Francisco Bay Area in September of 1972, a new breed of subway (pardon the pun) surfaced; the service aptly named BART for Bay Area Rapid Transit.

By the time 1980 arrived, Amtrak was not quite a decade old. Meanwhile, the passage that same year of the Staggers Rail Act and with the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform (4R) Act having passed just four years earlier, America’s railroads had turned the corner.

In “CATS: Diesel-electric versus pure electric train operations – pros and cons,” I wrote: “These two acts in essence deregulated the American railroad industry enabling it to be on more equal footing with its truck and air transport counterparts.

“Once able to regroup American railroads recovered from their losses and the rest is – as is so often said – history.”

Nineteen-hundred-eighty was also noteworthy in that one other California-based passenger train system – the San Diego Trolley light rail transit system – made its debut. With installation of BART, San Diego Trolley and others, for the intra-metropolitan and inter-metropolitan rail transit movement it was full steam ahead.

RTD light rail transit train, Denver, Colo.
RTD light rail transit train, Denver, Colo.

This brings me to the ‘90s, ‘00s, the present day and a topic I have devoted a considerable amount of press space to: road matters.

The bottom line here is that due to the rates at which vehicle miles traveled and population have grown, it was all highway building could do to keep up; and the thing is, it couldn’t. Consequently, urban highways became marred with and mired in congestion and gridlock. And believe me when I say I was no stranger to this having seen and experienced my fair share in both the ‘70s and ‘80s. I remember the nemesis of traffic flow all too well.

With that said and in concluding, I would just like to say I understand fully the reason for National Dump the Pump Day. I wholeheartedly embrace efforts like Dump the Pump Day, not only because campaigns such as these promote conservation (reduced driving, oil and gas consumption and transportation-related expenses), but because of the added benefit of improved air quality.

National Dump the Pump Day: Here’s wishing you unprecedented success!!

– Alan Kandel