Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

Day 7 of Santa Train. All trains are sold out and we are receiving calls asking if the train is still running today. It is of course (only one weekend in 40 years has been canceled) and a generator has been borrowed along other precautions to help ensure a happy experience for all. Certainly some people are concerned about driving on compact ice and snow – this is Western Washington after all – but many more seem happy to be here. The real concern is an approaching windstorm with projected gusts of 80 mph, but it isn’t expected to have a significant impact until after the last Santa Train has returned to North Bend.

So far Santa Train is running smoothly and it is beautiful to ride over the hill and through the snow to see Santa. And the hot cocoa tastes so much sweeter in the cold, at least to me. Radiant heaters are located in several areas to help keep the chill off, but some people are not dressed for freezing weather. Unfortunately that makes the experience less pleasant for them yet it is authentic. Imagine just a few short decades ago when the only practical intercity transportation choice was the train. If the weather changed while you were on a trip and you hadn’t made room to pack extra clothing, you had to make do. Today most of us are fortunate to have personal vehicles that allow us the freedom to move on our own schedule and to easily carry extra provisions. That’s one of the big changes the automobile has brought our society. It did mean giving up some all weather reliability though: Santa Train is running on schedule today yet nearly everyone spent a lot of extra time on the roads getting to North Bend.

P.S. Santa Trains all ran on 20 December without incident, although a few hundred people did not show up to use their tickets. On 21 December, Amtrak canceled nearly all their Pacific Northwest service. Why? Historically, the railroads had thousands of employees and therefore had the resources to clear snow and ice from turnouts, the arrangement of rails that allows a train to move from one track to another. In the mountains today, this work is done by impressively powerful automatic propane heaters. In the lowlands, snow is so infrequent that there are no automatic heaters. So frozen turnouts means very significant delays that make most passenger trains completely impracticable.

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