In the pre-dawn darkness of the last day of 2016, the rain is falling as I wander the quiet streets of a small town in the Southern US. It's the sort of morning that feels cold even when it's 50F ... it's a damp and soaking cold and that clings to a person's body and sends chills through them as though it were much cooler than it is.
The streets are glistening with the reflected lights of lampposts and Christmas decorations that are hanging for just a couple more days. Through the dark comes the haunting call of the KCS on the Meridian Speedway. Very soon, 8000 horsepower of diesels will split this small, dark town in two. The sounds of the approaching manifest are clear through the wet air ... and my mind casts back to the Great Lakes, an eastbound Capitol Limited on a winter night, and the tinted plexiglass windows of modern American rail travel, now two decades past....
Night time had fallen accross the flatlands of the midwest and with it had come the pelting rains of the great lakes. Glistenning in the light of the dim streetlamps of small towns in northern Ohio, the reflections of a silver snake could be seen cutting the darkness and rain in a battle of wills: the pelting, torrid rains pitched against the piercing headlights and moaning whistles of a Capitol Limited on a flat sprint for Cleveland.
An old El Capitan coach from decades and passenger trains long past, veered left and right as crossovers and switches slipped by beneath it. Once a hallmark of smooth and fast service for trains like the 20th Century Limited, the old roadbed showed signs of neglect and abuse. Maintenance deferred and standards lowered. Still the Capitol raced on, answering the call of its famed ancestors and the lure of large eastern cities.
The Locomotive’s whistle is haunting even now years later, made especially clear because of the wet. Its beauty resonates through the rain and memory in a mournful cry to clear the way and let it pass. Countless times this performance has run through these little towns in the wee hours of the day, and will run again for countless more.