Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eugene Kerik Garfield 1936-2010

I'm very saddened to learn of Gene Garfield's passing:

Brief passage:
Eugene K. Garfield, who originated the American Auto-Train, ferrying passengers and their cars between Virginia and Florida, saving people the effort of driving to their winter vacation homes and the expense of renting cars when they got there, died in Hollywood, Fla., on Sunday. He was 74.

The cause was esophageal cancer, said Brenda Brush, his companion.

In the 1960s, Mr. Garfield worked in Washington in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson as assistant to the secretary of transportation, Alan S. Boyd, and as an assistant to the president’s chief of staff, W. Marvin Watson.

During his time there, the Transportation Department conducted a feasibility study for an auto-ferry service between the Northeast and Florida, and concluded that the service would be potentially profitable and best left for the private sector.

Shortly thereafter, when President Johnson declined to run for re-election in 1968, Mr. Garfield returned to the private sector.

“He came home one day and said to my mom, ‘I’m going to run a train,’ ” his daughter, Pamela Garfield, said in an interview.
Likely Gene Garfield was the last passenger rail entrepreneur (as distinct from administrator) to walk this planet and develop a concept attractive to private capital. Although his business enterprise the Auto Train Corporation failed, it established that there could be strong public acceptance for such in the "right" market. AT established the demand was there for a journey that could be made overnight, but yet, after committing private capital, found that for longer journeys, e.g. Sanford-Louisville, the demand simply was not. That is why I have consistently held "overnight is enough' and have dismissed the longer routes proposed at various passenger rail enthusiast sites.

Although Amtrak paid the Estate fair market for the facilities and equipment acquired when the service was resumed during 1983, what else they got was simply like the Master Card ads, "Priceless'. For $1.00, Amtrak reportedly acquired all the Goodwill and institutional expertise that Mr. Garfield instilled within his organization. Such expertise included how to efficiently load and unload vehicles (is it any accident that the ramps at Lorton face Northward and those at Sanford face South enabling vehicles to be handled Roll On-Roll Off?), what to tell passengers and what NOT to tell passengers (no estimates whatever when you'll get your vehicle back, even though they could tell you give or take five minutes).

I haven't traveled AT since 2009 ("never went down" this year), but should there be a journey next year, my thoughts will to turn to the memory of 'the man who made it happen".

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