Colson: Could our trains be our saviors, too? |

Colson: Could our trains be our saviors, too?

John Colson
Guest Columnist
John Colson
Courtesy photo

I’ve been a fan of train travel for most of my adult life, starting when I was about 12, and took a train by myself from Los Angeles to Chicago at the end of a road-trip to LA with my best buddy’s family.

That was back when there was a direct train from LA through Las Vegas, Nevada, Colorado (passing through Glenwood Springs), and crossing the Great Plains before coming to rest at the Windy City’s Union Station (where my parents picked me up).

Since that mind-blowing trip, I have made a point of eschewing air travel in favor of the rails as often as possible, including numerous train voyages between Colorado and Wisconsin to visit family and old friends.

I got to thinking about trains after reading a news story about the vital contribution of Ukraine’s rail system to that country’s heroic efforts to stave off Russia’s ongoing, illegal, and inhumane invasion.

The story points out that the old Russian Empire went all-in on trains back in the mid-1800s, including construction of Ukraine’s (Though, it apparently was called Galicia back then and was an undifferentiated section of the empire), and that, at one point in history, Ukraine was the source of 75% of all exports from Russia to the rest of the world.

That’s right, 75%, which gives greater context to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crazed bid to destroy the Ukraine in order to own it again.

He knows very well that the Ukraine’s agricultural bounty is critical to the continued viability of the new Russia, and he pretends that Ukrainians would be much better off being under Russia’s thumb than it would if, say, it became aligned with NATO and the West in general.

We all know Putin is lying like a dog on a rug, and part of the proof of this is his ongoing bombardment of, well, just about every industrial, government, residential, and health-care facility he can hit with his missiles. Even if he somehow forces the Ukrainian army to capitulate, Russia’s economy may well collapse, either from the financial drain of the war or from the costs associated with rebuilding everything he has destroyed — or both.

In the meantime, according to the story by reporter Sarah A. Topol in last weekend’s New York Times, the country’s rail system has transformed itself from a decaying holdover from earlier neglect at the hands of both the former empire and of the corrupt regime that Putin controls into a crucial part of the Ukrainian resistance to Putin’s takeover efforts.

I highly recommend reading the article. It’s a fascinating account of what dedicated rail workers can do to hold a nation together and keep it on an effective war footing even under the kind of withering attacks launched by Russia’s dictator.

And, it got me thinking about our own decaying rail infrastructure here in the United States, and what its role might be should this country ever come under the kind of military assaults causing so much death and suffering in the Ukraine.

Would the various freight-rail companies come together with Amtrak to offer a way for transporting goods, soldiers, military equipment, and other supplies to far-flung locales all over this vast country of ours?

Would the managers, administrators, and workers rally to the cause, as has happened in the Ukraine, providing everything from transport to temporary housing for those who have lost their homes? You should understand that, according to the story, Ukrainians are just as divided as we are on a host of topics, but all those differences seem to have been subsumed by the perception that the only option is to stand and fight before they lose it all.

Would our rail companies offer free train rides to evacuees, put together free-food services for embattled people who may not have had a hot meal in weeks, and perform other tasks of mercy and patriotic resolve?

Or, would our current political malaise get in the way of any such national unification?

Would the apparent unwillingness of the electorate derail (pun intended) whatever love of country we still hold in our hearts, and open the way for some sort of capitulation or defeat?

I truly do not know, though I hope we would find a way to come together, as the Ukrainians have, to fight off a hostile takeover.

And, before anyone out there says, “This could never happen here,” just remember that we have already hosted two crippling wars within our borders, one against the British in the 1770s, and the other against ourselves in the 1860s.

So, yes, it is possible that we could find ourselves the object of an attempted military conquest at some point in our future.

And, in order to be ready, I’d say a good start at preparedness would be heightened support for our rail systems — freight and passenger — in the years ahead.

Think about it.

John Colson can be reached at