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“You Want to Build a Railroad, Do You?”

This program began life, at least in concept, as an episode of the “To the Junction and Back” series, but, along the way, it acquired a life of its own. This often happens here. Initially, we had planned to describe the economic and operational vicissitudes of the small railroad business. This will appear, as originally planned, as “To the Junction and Back - Part 3”.

As we developed this theme, it became apparent that we would have more fun speculating about building a small railroad ab initio. What would this take? How hard would it be? Most of all, how many cubic megabucks would it cost?

A great many of them, as it happens.

In the space of an hour and a half, one cannot do justice to the entire railroad business. In this made-for-local-cable-television program, we have cherry-picked topics in the interest of creating a story that should give the audience a taste, a sense, an inkling (have you ever inkled?) of the adventure of building a new railroad literally from the ground up.

“You Want to Build a Railroad, Do You?” is many things, but a typical public television documentary certainly is not one of them. Think of this program as a somewhat one-sided conversation with a railroad industry old-timer who has seen much and is willing to both talk about the facts he knows to be true and express his own views and opinions. We are up-front about this, with a warning in the very opening scenewarningof the program. This documentary contains opinion, and some of this opinion may not sit well alongside preconceptions and beliefs erected from too many years of complacent acceptance of the status quo ante.

Whether a tiny start-up, as we hypothesize in this program, or one of the massive Class 1 companies, in business since George Washington was a staff sergeant, every railroad must function within a tightly constraining array of existing circumstances. For example, the Staggers Act of 1980 set off an earthquake in the US railroad industry, stripping away protective and strangling regulation and forcing the railroads to do business more rationally. Today, this colors the landscape in which our new rail line competes with other transportation modes for business.

We try to convey a sense of this in the story we tell.

Perhaps the most readily apparent element of “You Want to Build a Railroad, Do You?” distinguishing it from typical pub-tel fare is the whimsy that seasons our look at what is, one must admit, a grimly serious industry most of the time. No doubt, public television insiders will quake with horror at the very thought of dealing lightly, however momentarily, with a topic that everyone knows to be a gravely important matter. In the aptly-named “As You Like It”, Shakespeare said it best, as he often did, “[t’is] an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own. A poor humor of mine, sir, to take that that no man else will.”


One important note about this production. When sizing up this production, please bear one thing in mind, and that is the difference between this program and a conventionally made documentary. The proper way to do the job is to write and perfect the story, in this instance the storyboard, which lays out the video portion of the presentation, and the narration script, which tells the story to the audience. Is that how we made this program? We wish. We were obliged to weave together old existing footage shot for other productions, along with content found elsewhere, and make it all fit into the allotted time while managing to tell a story at least cohesive enough to hold audience interest. Definitely not done by the book. Did it work? You be the judge.


Another important note about this production. Our previous works consisted almost entirely of original footage that we shot ourselves. As this story entails elements of the railroad business from all over the world, we have been obliged to incorporate content from other sources. After careful investigation of the factors involved and taking expert advice, we determined that such usage falls under the Fair Use doctrine of the US Copyright law.

For a brief explanation, please see this.


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