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Episode Fifteen — Off the Rails

Climate Stew
Climate Stew
Episode Fifteen -- Off the Rails

Episode 15 of Climate Stew looks at rail travel. Ah the romance of the train and the many hassles too. Peterson recently completed a cross-country train tour on Amtrak got backed up  a lot because of freight traffic, particularly by crude oil tankers. More time on a passenger train though means more time to connect with others. He shares an interview with singer/songwriter Poeina Suddarth. We also include Climate Stew’s first ever live concert featuring Poeina’s new song, Miracle. What will train travel look like in the future? Timothy Meadows fills us in with a report from the 22nd Century. Climate Stew is available on  iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud, or Listen here  on our site.


Poeina Suddarth






Opening: Hello and welcome to Episode 15 of Climate Stew. This week we will explore rail travel. I don’t fly anymore in the Continental USA. Instead I use only ground transportation, including my recent cross-country Amtak train trip from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Vancouver, British Columbia and back again. In our news section we will look at some recent news—good and bad—about rail travel, and then I share a special interview from my train trip. You will meet singer/songwriter Poenia Suddarth, who like me gets around a lot by train. She shares some of the many benefits and some challenges with public transportation. We even get a mini-live concert. Finally from the 22nd Century Timothy Meadows sent us a fresh installment of That Day in Climate History, but first, the news

News: Today’s news story looks at train travel including some new service, increased service, and discontinued service.

While the amount of coal being transported by freight trains has decreased over the past five year, the tracks in North America are jammed with lots of new freight traffic. In 2008 there were 9,500 rail cars filled with crude oil transported by rail in the USA. In 2013 that number rose to  over 400,000. The extra traffic has caused massive delays for Amtrak passengers, think 5-10 hour delays, and has interfered with the transportation of other goods including grain shipments. A court case that took the power of regulating the rails away from the federal government, was heard earlier this month by the Supreme Court. If they uphold the decision, freight train companies, which own many of the tracks, will get preference over passenger service leading to guaranteed delays.

Oil Tanker passing Peterson's train

Oil Tanker passing Peterson’s train

In spite of the delays though, rail travel in the USA has increased over the past two years. Amtrak now boasts transporting over 30 million people a year. While it still runs at a deficit, being regularly subsidized by the US government, Amtrak is earning more money than ever and is growing. After rebuilding disused tracks, this month Amtrak brings high speed rail service to their Vermonter line.

With all this crude oil now on rail lines risks to public safety have also increased.  I admit I get jittery in my small city with the crude oil tankers passing through only three blocks from my house several times a day. While newer safer tankers are replacing older more vulnerable ones, derailments of highly flammable crude oil trouble citizens, particularly after the devastating explosion last year in Quebec province. On July 6, 2013 five engines pulled 72 tankers of crude oil through villages and towns. At 1:15 am the train derailed causing a massive explosion which killed over 40 people and destroyed much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

Lac Megantic explosion (New York Daily News)

Lac Megantic explosion (New York Daily News)

Aftermath of Explosion

Aftermath of Explosion (


And if you long to experience the romantic thrill I get from overnight train travel in a sleeper car, you may be out of luck if you live in Europe. Because of cheap air travel and the amount of time required to travel by train, the famous Paris to Berlin sleeper car service has been discontinued.

The Caledonian Sleeper, with service from London to the Scottish Highlands, may also end after running on a deficit. In the US we only have private sleeper cars, not the shared European ones like I once took from Madrid to Paris. It was romantic except, when punctuated by the snoring of my cabin mates.

Main: Interview with Poeina Suddarth with live performance of Miracle.


Poeina Suddarth


That Day in Climate History

I am Timothy Meadow, it is Saturday, December 29th, 2164 and time for That Day in Climate History. Because of the extreme weather in the middle to late 21st Century, rail transportation was routinely disrupted. During heatwaves, tracks buckled causing delays and even accidents. Flooding washed out train lines and bridges, and in some places severe snow storms blocked the path of trains. Still train service flourished in the 21st Century. This was in part due to the dramatic increase of the cost of air travel brought on by carbon taxes and the introduction of algae-based bio fuels, which ran clean but were more expensive to produce in large quantities.

the-lady-vanishes-1938Also, on a hotter planet, holiday travelers in the Northern Hemisphere spent more time closer to home to avoid the extreme heat that baked the traditional holiday hot spots in Southern Europe and the Caribbean. As a result, train service increased throughout southern England and Wales. Transportation providers repaired old disused tracks and built new ones. A whole generation of rapid transit, zero-carbon light-rail sprung up and even replaced some roadways as people drove less and less. With more train travel also came a revival of train-themed cinema including the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes a film first made 226 years ago in 1938. The Classic 2067 version stars Tom Cruise clone #III and Jennifer Lawrence clone #II.
On this Day in 2164, we remember That Day In Climate History

Advert: Climate History is brought to you by Fox Entertainment—providing quality films, music, and simulated memories streamed directly into your brain.

That was fun. I hope you enjoy Episode 15 of Climate Stew as much as I did. Our opening music is by Mark Chapwick, the closing music you hear is by Poldoore. You can get a transcript of most of the show, links, music credits, and intense video of the Quebec train explosion over at Climate Stew dot Com. Very special thanks to Poeina Suddarth, Amtrak for all the great ambient sounds, oh, and Joe Gee, the man who inspired me to stick a microphone just inches form my lips.

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

This post has 3 Comments

  1. Joe Gee on January 8, 2015 at 4:46 am

    That song by Poeina Suddarth was just wow. So glad you met her and had her sing her song “Miracle”. If taking Amtrak means meeting and hearing someone like her perform during the trip, I need to take the train more often.

    So glad that I continue to be such an inspiration. I think someone like Poeina is more of an inspiration, but I don’t mind the accolades.

    • Peterson Toscano on January 8, 2015 at 7:31 am

      Joe, her voice was arresting in the good way when I first heard her from across the observation car. And that song is WOW. Glad you like it. But then you have always had good taste in music. I was happy with how good it sounded on my little digital recorder. I have a crappy old one and really need to see about getting a better one.

      Thanks for listening!

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