David Crabtree on Assignment

Oh, Will He Ever Return?

Posted November 22, 2005

More than forty years ago my sister and I would sing those words as we listened to a worn copy of an album by the Kingston Trio. The words were from a wonderful ode regarding a drone named Charlie who for years rode the MTA in Boston.

The song began with spoken words.

"These are the times that try men's souls. In the course of our nation's history, the people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis has arisen. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, better knowns as the MTA, is attempting to levy a burdensome tax on the population in the form of a subway fare increase. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!"

The song proceeds to tell us about a man named Charlie who had a dime, kissed his wife goodbye and went to ride on the MTA.

"Well did he ever return? No, he never returned, and his fate is still unknown.
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston, he's the man who never returned."

We learn that Charlie literally lived on the MTA because he couldn't afford the fare increase. Can we afford the rail system planned by the TTA? I'm not sure but I do know I am torn on the issue.

Since I moved back to North Carolina almost a dozen years ago, like the rest of you, I have experienced the Triangle's growing pains. Not only the terrible traffic, annexations, creeping city limits, and tax increases. I have also experienced, first hand, the passion of those who want the rail system and the wrath of those who don't. In fact, I was cornered at a black-tie event last weekend by someone who has read me the riot act on this plan numerous times. From the moment he saw me and for the next 15 minutes, I listened to his intense disdain for the rail plan. Much of this I had heard before.

It reminded me of the complaining I heard 13 years ago when I lived in Denver, Colo. "Light rail? In Denver? Are you crazy? This will never work! People don't ride the buses now!"

Sound familiar?

Here are the facts. Projections for ridership for the Denver project: 8,000 per day. The day the trains started running: 12,000! Today? Over 20,000. Granted, those trains run in a more metropolitan area, but it was a risk, a gamble those leaders were willing to take and it paid off.

What might be gained with these proposed Triangle trains? We don't yet know. We do know tons of tax dollars have already been spent and tons more will need to flow from the Washington spigot. So far, both Democrats and Republicans have said yes.

To those who want this new rail service, I urge you to be more specific with the following:

Timely accounting of expenditures.
Qualify your ridership projections.
Look for ways to make it easy for those of us who aren't on the route to find a reason to ride.
Embrace your opponents. Listen to their concerns.
Regroup and rethink your ideas if you have to


And to those who despise the idea and continue to rail against rail? Give it a chance. You may find you like it. It may work. It may not. Either way you don't have to be like Charlie. You might want to even change the lyrics.

"These are the times that try our souls. In the course of the Triangle's history, the people of Raleigh-Durham-Cary-Chapel Hill have rallied bravely whenever our rights have been threatened. Now, a new crisis is here. The Triangle Transit Authority is attempting levy a burdensome project on our backs. And the last words I want to hear are, 'All Aboard.' I'd rather sit in my car, alone, stuck on I-40 and know I was right than to ride on that damn train!"
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About this Blog:

WRAL anchor David Crabtree reports from around the world.