I took this photo February 2nd, 2020, and processed it in my digital darkroom a few hours later.
While I think this is a perfectly serviceable photograph, I’m not sure I’d add it to my portfolio. I enjoyed good light, I had the proper lens to capture a decent angle on a modestly interesting and historically significant building, but to me, this illustrates a flaw in letting an algorithm define what is an “excellent” image.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the pat on the back of being included in Flickr Explore, there is certainly a dopamine rush of pleasure when the positive attention of social media suddenly converges on my art.
But if I look at the photos I’ve worked on in the last year, this particular one would not be in my own selection of top ten images to hang in a gallery show or sell prints of.
Am I wrong?
18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6
In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.
Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.
In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.
With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.
It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should.
Infrastructure is ignored until there is a crisis, alternatively, we could invest in the country and its workers before disaster strikes. Or money gets left unspent because Governor Rauner has a different agenda…
For the Chicago Transit Authority, for example, the lack of state capital funding has meant $1 billion in federal money may get left on the table. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last year made federal dollars available, but state matches are needed to access them.
“A capital program would be very helpful, or else those funds could be put at risk,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said. He said the money is needed for projects like the Red and Purple Line modernization, and rail and right of way improvements to prevent slow zones.
CTA needs a total of $13 billion in capital spending over the next decade to get the system in a state of good repair, Carter said.
Metra needs $11.7 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years. Because that’s a tall order, the board has made two programs top priorities — positive train control, a federally mandated computerized system to prevent train collisions, and new or rehabbed rolling stock. That would include 367 new railcars. (The agency currently has funding for 10.)
Some of Metra’s railcars are 63 years old. “They’re eligible for Medicare in a couple of years,” joked Metra CEO Don Orseno ruefully.
Besides new cars and locomotives, Orseno said Metra needs a better maintenance schedule for its old ones. Walking around a big, barnlike rail repair facility on 49th Street last week, Orseno and Metra capital projects manager Lexie Walker showed how cars are stripped down and rebuilt — with new floors, seats, toilets, air conditioning, outlets for plugging in laptops and wheelchairs, plus new wheels and brakes.
The Poem Remained Too Short
What about roads, you ask? They are as neglected, with no positive news forthcoming:
[Illinois] cannot afford to keep up the roads it has now. One of the pressing needs for the Illinois Department of Transportation is a rebuild of the aging and congested Eisenhower Expressway, similar to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan in 2007, said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit focused on regional growth.
“Money for that project isn’t even on the radar,” Skosey said.
He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.
Skosey noted that closed roads and bridges lead to gridlock, which already costs the region $7 billion a year. On an individual level, bad roads cost the average Illinois driver $400 to $800 a year in car repairs.
I’m pleased to note that Union Station is getting a rehab, a long over-due rehab, opening up hidden rooms and so forth. Can’t wait – Union Station is such an iconic Chicago building, yet it has been seemingly neglected for a while, probably due to the inexplicable animosity the GOP has towards Amtrak and passenger trains in general.
John Hilkevitch reports:
Amtrak is betting millions of dollars to transform Union Station into an entertainment and tourist destination, complete with restaurants and outdoor cafes, retail, a hotel and even a grocery store, Getting Around has learned.
Amtrak wants to open up thousands of square feet of space long closed to the public, literally throwing open the doors to the 90-year-old building in a bid to return the landmark station to its heyday in the 1940s and ’50s.
Hidden deep inside Union Station are palatial rooms with 33-foot-high ceilings and assorted alcoves that have been mothballed for decades. During the golden age of passenger rail, those spaces were filled with ritzy restaurants, coffee shops (including the fabled Harvey House), a dance hall, tailoring shops specializing in custom suits, law offices and more.
Behind locked doors is the former Women’s Waiting Room, adorned with murals dating to the station’s opening in 1925, a period when female passengers would take refuge from the rough-and-tumble of traveling alone and freshen up during a stopover in Chicago by using pay showers.
Other hidden spaces, tucked behind the station’s marble walls and ornamental iron bars that cover part of the building’s facade, collect dust. Some of Union Station’s doors fronting Canal Street, potential portals to outdoor cafes, haven’t been cracked open in years, officials said.
Sanders said a well-known high-end grocery chain has expressed interest in opening a food emporium at Union Station. Sanders also said he envisions a hotel on the station’s second floor, with the hotel entrance and marquee on Adams Street between Canal and Clinton streets. He’s already dreaming about reinstalling canopies that once gracefully draped the entrances to Union Station, he said.
Either Whole Foods or Mariano’s, I’d guess, even though both have stores nearby on Halsted.
Got the Wine Country Blues
And I should pop over, and snap a few photos of the staircase in its current worn condition, just for posterity.
In the meantime, the Canal Street entrances will be closed for more than two months starting around July 15, when work is scheduled to begin to replace both sets of the worn marble steps connecting the Great Hall to the station’s main entrance on Canal, where CTA buses stop. The combination deli and bar under the steps has closed in preparation for the work.
The friction from countless pairs of shoes over the years has effectively sanded down the marble, creating indentations on the treads of the steps, which display the most wear and tear near the brass railings.
The grand staircases are famous in their own right, having been filmed and photographed repeatedly in images seen around the world. There’s a dramatic scene in the 1987 film “The Untouchables” where Kevin Costner, playing mob crime fighter Eliot Ness, exchanges gunfire with Al Capone’s gang while a runaway baby carriage rolls bump by bump down the marble stairs.
New marble for the steps was recently cut out of the same quarries near Rome where 100 years ago the marble for the original Union Station steps was mined, Sanders said.
Shocking, I know, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron, et al, don’t want to alter their profit streams, asking to be able to continue sending bomb trains throughout the country. The reason? Updating the safety equipment would cost money. What a compelling argument, worthy of a 6th grade debate team.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.
The trade group, which represents companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, has long argued that forcing oil producers and shippers to use newer tank cars and replace older models would impose high costs on the industry and lead to a shortfall in tank car capacity.
The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment. It also challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.
If Exxon Mobil were forced to spend $100,000,000 updating the bomb cars, ((a number I just pulled out of the air, and probably a lot more than they would actually pay)) would it be a large enough number to reduce their annual profits measurably? In 2014 alone, ExxonMobil reported revenue of $394,105,000,000. Chevron’s reported revenue for 2014 was $211,970, 000,000 by the way. I would hazard a guess their accountants are top notch, and most of the costs of updating bomb trains would be written off as operating expense, right? The oil industry has been making immense, unimaginable profits for decades, or more.
In other words, protesting that updating the rail cars so that they don’t blow up communities and cause fires that last for weeks because updating the rail cars would cost too much is a lame argument. Cries pleading poverty from corporations as wealthy as Chevron is laughable.
Love Is Letting Go
Not that the Transportation Department and Barack Obama will listen to me, but my negotiation points would include the tax subsidies the oil and gas industry currently enjoy: fix the bomb trains and you get to keep half of your tax subsidies.
The oil industry’s lobbyists like to argue that its array of tax write-offs (which allow companies to deduct everything from drilling costs to the declining value of their wells) aren’t any different than other deductions for less publicly reviled companies. Cutting them will discourage new exploration and put jobs at risk, they claim.
Yet, some of the breaks are anachronisms that date back almost to the days of John D. Rockefeller. And in a world of permanently high crude prices, there’s very little rationale for subsidizing the bottom lines of companies like ExxonMobil and BP.
Make no mistake, either: Those profits are perfectly healthy. Between drilling and refining, Exxon’s U.S. operations alone earned $7.5 billion after taxes in 2012. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the so-called “independent” oil companies and the top oil driller in Texas, raked in $7.1 billion via its oil and gas division.
Interesting. I’ll have to get a better photograph of this place.
Much less well-known is the West Chicago Street Railroad’s (WCSR) former powerhouse, still standing in the West Loop at Washington Street and Jefferson Street. Equipment in this building drove two cables: one that pulled cable cars through the tunnel under the Chicago River along Washington Street and around the downtown and another shorter cable that pulled cars from Washington Street and Jefferson Street to Madison Street and DesPlaines Street.
This former WCSR powerhouse at Jefferson and Washington streets drove the cables that pulled West Side cable cars through the tunnel under the South Branch of the Chicago River and around two downtown loops. It is now the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134. The building was vacated in 1906, and for decades it housed the Chicago Surface Line’s Legal and Accident Investigation Department. Subsequently, it was modified—more substantially, perhaps unalterably, than the NCSR’s powerhouse on LaSalle Street. Several dormers were added at the roofline, the rear portion of the building was extended, and the smokestack was removed. Most significantly, a large stone wall covers much of the first floor. Today, the building serves as headquarters for Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which also hosts the monthly meeting of the 20th Century Railroad Club.
China began service Wednesday morning on the world’s longest high-speed rail line, covering a distance in eight hours that is about equal to that from New York to Key West, Fla., or from London across Europe to Belgrade, Serbia.
Trains traveling 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, an hour, began regular service between Beijing and Guangzhou, the main metropolis in southeastern China. Older trains still in service on a parallel rail line take 21 hours; Amtrak trains from New York to Miami, a shorter distance, still take nearly 30 hours.
Completion of the Beijing-Guangzhou route — roughly 1,200 miles — is the latest sign that China has resumed rapid construction on one of the world’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects, a network of four north-south routes and four east-west routes that span the country.
Lavish spending on the project has helped jump-start the Chinese economy twice: in 2009, during the global financial crisis, and again this autumn, after a brief but sharp economic slowdown over the summer.
The hiring of as many as 100,000 workers for each line has kept a lid on unemployment as private-sector construction has slowed because of limits on real estate speculation. The national network has helped to reduce air pollution in Chinese cities and helped to curb demand for imported diesel fuel by freeing capacity on older rail lines for goods to be carried by freight trains instead of heavily polluting, costlier trucks.
It might be fun to attend this, but on the other hand, I like to sleep in a bit on Sundays.
Union Station 225 South Canal Street, Chicago, IL 60606
When: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Saturday, May 12 General Admission: Free
Now in its 5th year, National Train Day is back to celebrate train travel and the ways trains touch the lives of people with events across America. This year, festivities will highlight the unique perspective passengers enjoy as they take in the vastness and beauty of the American landscape, from cities big and small, to country vistas and everything in between, when traveling by rail. As part of National Train Day, each major market event features live entertainment, interactive and educational exhibits, kids’ activities, model train displays and tours of Amtrak equipment, freight and commuter trains, and notable private railroad cars.
The House leadership of the Ways and Means committee introduced a proposal yesterday that would exclude public transit from receiving federal motor fuels tax funding. The proposal is a part of a bill that will establish funding for a new five-year transportation bill now before Congress. The move would eliminate guaranteed funding in the Mass Transit Account – established in 1982 under President Reagan – potentially eliminating public transportation nationwide.
“The House Ways and Means Bill stops just short of defunding America’s public transit system. Instead it says that the real money with a funding source will all go to highways, while the tooth fairy will pay for transit. For Big Oil and the highway lobby, this is a dream, but it’s a nightmare for America’s transportation future,” said Dan Smith of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.
“Over the past several weeks, many of us were surprised to hear that House and Senate transportation leaders were unified in their desire to pass a surface and transit-funding bill in the near term,” said Richard Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “This development raised the rare possibly of bi-partisan action on an important piece of domestic policy. Well, all of that ended yesterday afternoon. Unlike the responsible and consensus-driven Senate version, House Chairman John Mica released a political document that surely elicited high-fives among his party’s most ideological stalwarts. The bill slashes Amtrak funding, zeroes out high-speed rail funding and maintains the “pave at all cost” mentality that is pervasive in American transportation policy.”
“We are deeply concerned that if this measure passes, Americans who use public transportation, or who would like that option in the future, will be thrown under the bus,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “This couldnʼt come at a worse time for people who need an affordable, reliable way to get to work, or for employers who need workers.” Corless noted the demand for transit has been rising as the economy slowly recovers and people are using public transportation to get to jobs and to avoid volatile gas prices.
“This bill is vastly outside the mainstream and does nothing for American commuters who are desperate for a comprehensive transportation system that actually improves their quality of life,” said Harnish. “Additionally, instead of tackling the foundational funding structure that is bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund, House leaders decided it would be best to garner new revenues through increased domestic oil drilling.
One the one hand, as a resident of not-Florida, I’m amused by this:
After Gov. Rick Scott of Florida thoughtlessly rejected $2.4 billion in federal aid for a high-speed rail line, he claimed last month that he was doing a huge favor for the national Treasury, which he expected would give away the money in tax cuts. That was nonsense, of course; Mr. Scott was really doing a favor for train passengers in the Northeast, Midwest and California, which were given $2 billion of his money on Monday for better service. Florida voters might want to think about that decision as they sit in traffic jams, burning up $4-a-gallon gasoline. In fact, some of them clearly have thought about it because Mr. Scott now has some of the worst approval ratings of a Florida official in the last decade.
He has joined other newly elected Republican governors so rigidly opposed to the Obama administration that they are willing to harm their states to score points. The result is a crazy quilt of state relationships with Washington, stitched more with ideology than reason.
None of the money in Monday’s announcement will be going to Wisconsin, for example, where Gov. Scott Walker has also decided that his strapped state could do without rail improvements and the construction jobs that go with them. Nor will it go to Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich preferred rejectionism to the improvement of rail service among the state’s largest cities, which could have produced 16,000 jobs.
Instead, it will go to 15 states that have more farsighted leadership, who understand the important role federal dollars can play in stimulating the economy, moving people quickly from place to place and reducing tailpipe emissions. Some of those states are led by Republicans: Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan happily stood beside Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday to accept nearly $200 million to upgrade the rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, the bulk of the Chicago-Detroit corridor.
but the whole point of having a national train network is that you can travel to any other point in the country reasonably quickly, and these teabagger morons are ruining this possibility.
I’ve never heard a rational argument against upgrading our train infrastructure, other than mouth-dribbling anti-Obama spewing from the Republicans. Is it the asphalt industry? Automotive? Which corporate organizations are funding the Republican opposition? Curious.
Wouldn’t think it would be the energy companies, because trains need fuel too, but maybe ExxonMobile is afraid that if too many commuters don’t drive cars, their profits will be dinged?
I haven’t read the bill, and of course, it probably won’t be passed in quite this form, but why is defense spending not part of the budget cuts? There is zero money for Amtrak, zero. Assholes.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, will unveil the bill in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning.
Jordan’s bill, which will have a companion bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, would impose deep and broad cuts across the federal government. It includes both budget-wide cuts on non-defense discretionary spending back to 2006 levels and proposes the elimination or drastic reduction of more than 50 government programs.
Jordan’s “Spending Reduction Act” would eliminate such things as the U.S. Agency for International Development and its $1.39 billion annual budget, the $445 million annual subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the $1.5 billion annual subsidy for Amtrak, $2.5 billion in high speed rail grants, the $150 million subsidy for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and it would cut in half to $7.5 billion the federal travel budget.
But the program eliminations and reductions would account for only $330 billion of the $2.5 trillion in cuts. The bulk of the cuts would come from returning non-defense discretionary spending – which is currently $670 billion out of a $3.8 trillion budget for the 2011 fiscal year – to the 2006 level of $496.7 billion, through 2021.
Other cuts in the Jordan proposal include putting the $45 billion remaining in the stimulus toward deficit reduction, eliminating federal control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the tune of $30 billion in savings, and clawing back $16 billion currently scheduled to go toward helping state governments pay for Medicaid recipients.
There are clear cut significant costs to such a proposal. Getting rid of the $6 billion or so in stimulus that is reserved for state governments in the upcoming fiscal year, along with the $16 billion in state Medicaid payments, would compound what is already set to be the worst year of fiscal problems yet in this economic downturn for state governments. They face their biggest deficits of the recession already because stimulus money has for the most part run out, and are in the process now of figuring out what services they will have to cut.
But Jordan said Wednesday that the nation must endure short term pain of its own choosing to avoid long term pain that it is far more serious and beyond its control.
So America, are you ready for some pain? Get ready as your newly elected Rethuglicans gut every domestic program in their quest to return us to the Robber Baron era. You know, child labor, no pollution controls, mandatory 70 hour work weeks, etc. A good time to be a banker, an insurance CEO, or an industrialist, not so good for the rest of us.
I was too cold walking home to even consider using a tripod, so instead, rested my camera on a ledge, focusing on the Merchandise Mart (lit for the Christmas season), and a train happened to come whizzing by. If I had brought my tripod, perhaps the deep focus might have been a little sharper, but I don’t mind, I quite like how this turned out. I did bump up the color contrast a bit in Photoshop, using a Velvia emulator in a new layer, then changing the opacity to about 60% or so.
Gov.-elect Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Gov.-elect John Kasich in Ohio campaigned on pledges to stop passenger-rail projects in their states. On Thursday, they got their wish.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rescinded nearly $1.2 billion that had been allocated to Wisconsin and Ohio for new train lines. Wisconsin, which received $810 million for a passenger train between Madison and Milwaukee, will have to forfeit the entire amount. Ohio must give up $385 million of the $400 million allocated for a train connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
The funds will be redirected to train projects in 14 states. California and Florida will receive the largest portions, up to $624 million and $342.3 million, respectively. Wisconsin will retain up to $2 million for the Chicago-Milwaukee line.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Wisconsin’s governor-elect, Scott Walker, that the federal government will take back the $810 million in stimulus funding granted to the state for a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison if Mr. Walker doesn’t soften his opposition to the project.
“I respect the power of governors to make decisions for their states,” Mr. LaHood wrote to Mr. Walker. “There seems to be some confusion, however, about how these high-speed rail dollars can be spent. For this reason, I would like to set the record straight: None of the money provided to Wisconsin may be used for road or highway projects, or anything other than high-speed rail. Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin’s project so that we do not waste taxpayers’ money.”
…The Obama administration announced in January that $8 billion of stimulus funding would go toward building 13 high-speed passenger-rail networks across the U.S. Two weeks ago, the federal government separately awarded an additional $2.4 billion for high-speed rail projects nationwide.
On Monday, the U.S. Transportation Department said that in addition to the grants for high-speed rail, Wisconsin has received more than $703.7 million in separate stimulus funding for other road, bridge, highway, transit and airport projects.
Scott Walker seems to be confused, as Wisconsin already has incoming federal dollars earmarked to be used to shore up roads and bridges. I wonder if he’s even thought his opposition through, or if it just is a convenient campaign slogan, meaningless, in other words.
While I would like there to be high-speed rail to Madison (or any rail, actually), if the rail line ignored Wisconsin, and just went directly to Minneapolis, I could live with that.