The Nation: Mournful Whistles

In an almost literal sense, it was the railroad tie that bound the nation together—trains pumping commerce across the vast continental expanse, rattling and mournfully whistling through the prairie or small-town American nights with the promise of escape to the cities, of traveling on. For generations of Americans, the rhythm of trains has been part of their national memory, the clickety-clack of long journeys, the special sense of desolate silence that overwhelms the countryside when a train passes and disappears.

Last week, in an effort to turn the railroad into a modern if diminished...

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