Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Road Trip Ruminations

I've just returned from my spring expedition to the family homestead in Texas, where we celebrated my mother's birthday and my sister's acceptance to vet school at A&M. The driving distance is about 1550 miles each way, which allows plenty of time for audio books and idle thoughts. Along the way, I saw something that really demonstrated the current state of our economy. About fifty miles east of downtown Los Angeles, there's a Union Pacific rail yard that has tracks paralleling the I-10 freeway. The track closest to the freeway had a solid line of parked locomotives - more locomotives than I think I've ever seen. See if you can count them all:

Actually, there's more than that, as this photo shows:

I mentioned this to a train buff friend, and he pointed out that railroads don't park these things lightly - their huge diesels do not tolerate starting up and shutting down like the engine in your car. There will be a good bit of maintenance required whenever they get around to firing these things up again. It's generally accepted that it's more economical for the railroad to just let them keep running, even for a month, than shut one down and start it up again. So, if they've actually parked all these locomotives, then railroad traffic is really down with no change expected any time soon. And by the way, there's an awful lot of empty track in that yard.

And that brings up another point: A huge amount of stuff enters the US of A through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Most of it is containerized, and goes forth across the country via truck and train. I took an informal survey of stuff I've recently bought, and nearly all of it came either from China or Taiwan. This stuff ranges from a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun to an Apple MacBook. It seems like everything comes from China these days; Cessna's newest little airplane will be built in China, and even Baldwin piano shut down their last US factory (in Arkansas) last December in favor of Chinese-built product. So what exactly is the stimulus package that we keep hearing about supposed to stimulate? Not our economy, methinks . . .

We've seen signs of the slow down at work, naturally. I just saw that our traffic at LAX is down 13-percent from last year. By passenger count, we're actually now the fifth busiest airport in the country; Denver has passed us up to take the number four spot behind Atlanta Hartsfield, Chicago O' Hare, and DFW. That said, there are some developments that I'll report on next time. In the meantime, if you're in California, have a great Cesar Chavez Day; for all the rest of you: Happy Tuesday!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's a lotta engines. almost as depressing as the airplanes deserted in the desert.