SOMEWHERE EAST of SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- I had originally intended to write this piece about the Chicago Auto Show’s great untapped natural resource, it’s location near the travel hub of North America.
I had grand designs to write of how the Chicago auto show -- which already benefits from being housed in the massive and beautiful lakefront McCormick Center -- could truly cement itself as the nation’s premier consumer show.
I thought it made perfect sense for the show, which doesn’t get the recognition or attention from automakers that it deserves, to embrace consumers from further afield than just a two-hour circle of the Midwest’s largest city.
How would it do that? Well, I was going to suggest that there might be mutual benefit for a number of parties if automakers and/or the Chicago Auto Dealers association chartered special trains into the city specifically for the auto show.
Free rides, as it were, from places like Cleveland and Detroit and Minneapolis and Madison and Indianapolis, to come to the show, stay a while, enjoy the city, then head back home.
Last year, I took the train from my home near Toledo to cover the Chicago auto show, spent the day, and then headed back later that evening. It was a great day, and went off without a hitch.
Not so this year, though.
My plans to repeat that adventure were blown up, or more accurately halted in its tracks, by Amtrak’s ongoing kerfuffle with the nation’s freight railroads. What was supposed to be my fast-moving train to Chicago this morning sat motionless just east of Toledo for well over an hour as it waited for slow-moving freight haulers to meander their way along the tracks. Meanwhile, I cooled my heels in the station and boarded over two hours later than I was supposed to.
That is no way to run a railroad, and certainly no way to whisk potential consumers off for a fun-filled day in Chicago.
The nation’s transportation infrastructure needs serious attention. It affects every one of us, and well beyond simple inconveniences. Roads, bridges, airports and yes, railroads, in the United States are all in far worse shape than they should be.
Amid last year’s harsh winter, automakers lost millions on transportation delays caused by the railroads because of a lack of infrastructure investment. In fact, with the possible exception of those selling wheel and tire insurance -- now a mandatory buy for each car I purchase -- I’d be hard-pressed to find someone in this country who benefits from the deteriorating state of our transportation infrastructure.
I should be climbing into a cab to head over to McCormick Place right now. Instead, I’m two hours to the east, hoping I make it on time for my now-delayed appointments.
Guess I should have drove.