Volume 2, Issue 2
2nd Quarter, 2007

Standard Gauge: Chapter Three

Keith Henson

June 2106

One reason for traveling by train--besides it being the best way ever found to travel with children--is to see the sights.

Since you can't see the sights at night, the holiday train pulled into Greensburg, Pennsylvania at 4 pm and stopped at the gargoyle encrusted train station under the Jacobean clock tower. 

Greensburg had lost the usual percentage but now had a population just short of 10,000--only a third smaller than it had before the crash.  It had been picked as one of the two places for the refugees from the mothballing of Pittsburgh, and had absorbed about a third of them.  The rest had come from smaller places that were no longer socially viable in a state with only 125,000 people.

Before the population crash, parking a train on a main line was unthinkable, but Ed Bledsoe knew through his interface to rail traffic that no other trains were due to come through on the West bound line before noon the next day, the engineers in those trains knew where Ed's was parked and, of course, there were machine intelligences watching over the entire rail network that knew to the meter where trains were and how fast they were going.  In any case, if you wanted to stop at the Greensburg station, there was no other choice.

Ed had been a rail fan in his mid-forties rather than a railroad engineer a hundred years before and could remember watching the main line through Pennsylvania when sixty trains a day went through.

That was down from 120 trains a day in the middle of the steam era, but the trains of the late 20th to early 21st century were much longer than those of the steam era and very heavy.  Trains in that day had multiple roaring engines pulling and pushing through the Gallitzin summit tunnels [2].  Ed had remembered his train watching days fondly as the holiday train passed through the tunnels early that afternoon.

When nanotechnology fabricators [3] started producing products locally, rail freight traffic dwindled everywhere.  It had fallen much further when almost all of the population withdrew from the physical world.

Now freight trains carried only food--the one thing the fabricators simply would not produce--and not a lot of that, since there were only about 5.5 million physical state people left in all of North America.

In times past such a drop in traffic would have resulted in the railroads being abandoned.   But they were not.  In one of the last acts of governments before the politicians abandoned the physical world, the rail system was transferred to NARF, North American Rail Fans. 

Like most legislation passed around that time it was suspiciously well written, especially if you didn't read it closely.  NARF discovered the wording encouraged it to replace tracks that had been ripped out and even build new tracks.  Like other historically oriented organizations it didn't loose a high percentage of members in the crash--perhaps because playing with their giant toys had much the same attraction as the uploaded life.

Of course the rail fans were aided by nearly unthinkable amounts of largely invisible automation.  Without the aid of nanomachines [4] similar to those that mothballed the cities, it would have been impossible for a few thousand rail fans to maintain 300,000 miles of track from Mexico to Alaska. 

Nanomachines and their cousins--up to track alignment machines the size of a locomotive--maintained the track to perfection, aligning it, rot proofing the ties, maintaining the bridges, inhibiting brush and trees from growing into the right of way, making certain the rails did not crack, even making welded rail out of clickity-clack (bolted) track.

And, of course, repairing the engines and cars.  Prior to the fuel crisis of early 21st century diesel engines on locomotives were seldom shut down because temperature cycling caused the seals in the water-cooling system to leak. Actively repaired engines simply didn't have that problem.

Ed quit musing about the chain of events that had brought him the best working hobby anyone ever had and shut off the engines.  They quit with a final LUB, wheeeeeze.   The relative silence had a strange feeling as Ed's noise-canceling ear implants shut themselves off.

He and Mike DeLong shooed out the kids who had been riding in the cab, then secured the engine, setting the hand brake and closing valves but not bothering to lock the cab--vandalism simply didn't happen now.

Ed had been over this route stopping in Greensburg several times a year for the past forty-five years.  Mike, who was almost a hundred years younger than Ed, had been born there, though his parents had finally succumbed to the pull of the uploaded life.  Both had friends in Greensburg who expected them to stay any time they stopped there.

They walked back along the track to the stairs that led down under the tracks, into the station and out the front.  There was a rack of bicycles, a row of electric cars and a few small trucks parked at the station.  As they were walking toward them a rider-less bicycle glided up and put itself in the rack.  Ed didn't often bring up the differences in their ages but this prompted him.  Shaking his head he commented.

"That bike runnin' around by itself would have freaked the heck out of people back when I was your age."

Mike who had majored in historical steam technology before deciding he liked diesels better and was familiar with 250 years of technology, replied:

"Yeah, but people can get used to anything."

Ed nodded in agreement.  It was nice weather so as they each took bicycles out of the rack instead of taking electric cars.  In a few seconds the bikes adjusted to them and they rode off.

Hector, Jenny, Kenny, and their parents Dwight and Amanda, along with fifty-six other parents and seventy-one of their schoolmates walked down the twenty-one steps, through the tunnel under the tracks, through the restored train station and spilled into town. 

This wasn’t all the children or parents from their combined school in Trenton, New Jersey.  A dozen parents stayed home to take care of the kids under two, and the older teenagers (those with active neural interfaces) took off in smaller groups either to visit far away universities or just to be with each other privately in places off the net.

Graphic from: www.Amazon.com

A half dozen of the older kids had read Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast [5] and, entranced with sailing lore, joined a larger group that was sailing to California from Boston that summer—through the Panama Canal, not by the historical Cape Horn route around South America.  Deciding to learn sail craft the old way they had put up the masts and rigging for a schooner after clearing a section of the woods next to the school.  They talked about jibs, spars, spritsails, topsails and masts till their friends didn't want to hear any more.

The city center of their home in Trenton was mostly a reconstruction of earlier times.  It was the same in Greensburg.  Much of the downtown structure dating from the 1950s or earlier had been torn down and replaced by office buildings, which were now gone and had been replaced by replicas of the stores which had been the business district close to the train station in the late 1940s and early 1950s. 

In small groups the children and parents walked around town looking at replicated goods from the 1950s in the stores and buying a few items from "shopkeepers," paying for them in real silver coins and replicated paper money from that era.  After an hour and a half, they walked up from the shopping district, under the tracks to the west of the station and then up the winding drive past weathered statues of saints to Seton Hill University. 

Seton Hill was one of the universities that had not been shut down and mothballed in the population crash.  Since it was summer with most of the students gone, and they were close to the train station, they provided room and board to school train outings.   Universities did better than most institutions.  Of the seven thousand of them in pre crash North America about 700 of them were still active. 

The entrance was through an amazingly high portico.  Its original function of protecting passengers alighting from horse drawn carriages would have only worked if the rain had been coming straight down.  The older kids had been exposed to monumental scale architecture before, but some of the younger one gawked at the sixteen to twenty foot ceiling.

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[2] Gallitzin Summit Tunnels - In 1848-49, the Pennsylvania Railroad laid out and adopted the Sugar Gap Route which was the beginning of industrial development at the top of the Alleghenies. The first tunnel, a bit shorter than the "Twin Tunnels", is situated under Tunnelhill. It is known as the Portage Tunnel. The second tunnel, first of the "Twin Tunnels", is known as the Allegheny Tunnel and was completed in 1854. The third tunnel was begun in 1902 and completed in 1904. This is known as the Gallitzin Tunnel. There is a magnificent view of this amazing architectural accomplishment from the Jackson Street Bridge.
http://www.gallitzin.info/tunnels.php  April 20, 2009 11:51PM EST

[3] Nanotechnology Fabricators - A small nano-robotic device that can use supplied chemicals to manufacture nanoscale products under external control. Fabricators could work together to build macroscale products by convergent assembly. Similar to assemblers, but less complex, easier to build, and probably more efficient.
http://crnano.org/crnglossary.htm#Fabricator  April 20, 2009 11:56AM EST

[4] Nanomachinenoun. Microscopic devices [as robots] built by manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale.
http://www.nanomachines.com/  April 20, 2009 10:56AM EST

[5] Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea - a book by the American author Richard Henry Dana, Jr., written after a two-year sea voyage starting in 1834 and published in 1840. A film adaptation under the same name was released in 1946.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Years_Before_the_Mast  April 20, 2009 9:11AM EST



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