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Thursday, August 1, 2013
Remember all the fun we had in June with a contest to name the new Amtrak passenger train that could be running to Roanoke as soon as 2016?
It's now called the "Northeast Regional." Reader ideas for more alluring and romantic monikers than that produced 168 separate entries, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. Meanwhile, a total of 891 votes came in our online reader poll.
The poll's top vote getter was the sarcastic "Taxpayer Express." But it's ridiculous because the train, which now ends in Lynchburg, operates at a profit. The No. 2 choice was "The Shooting Star" after Salem's much-loved Lakeside roller-coaster. No. 3 was "Star City Limited (or Express)." Both of those fall in the more sublime category. Not many readers cared for my suggestion, "The Big Licker."
Anyway, Dan Peacock, Virginia's No. 1 passenger rail fan, has taken our efforts to the next level. He's compiled them in bureaucratic-friendly binders and sent them to top honchos at Amtrak. He's also produced a YouTube video about the train-naming effort.
"There were so many," Peacock told me Tuesday. "Most of them were very thought-provoking or funny. Some of them were nasty. It seemed to me like, why don't we see if there's interest?"
As he views it, a glamorous name for that train would be a great marketing tool for Amtrak, his favorite - though cash-strapped - government agency. (As recently as Tuesday, some tight-fisted members of Congress were making efforts to end food and drink service on Amtrak passenger trains, he noted).
"There's so much energy [behind naming the train] that it might be something Amtrak would consider,"Peacock said. "It wouldn't cost them any money. And it would generate a tremendous amount of interest."
Here's a bit of information about Peacock: He's 68 and is retired from 41 years of government service. That started with a two-year stint in the Army when he was drafted in the early 1960s. But most of it was spent in the Environmental Protection Agency.
He holds a master's degree in biology . Aside from his consuming interest in passenger rail, he's an insect guy - he used to regulate pesticides. He and his wife, who writes novels, live in Manassas. A mere 25 steps from their front door, Peacock can watch his beloved Northeast Regional every time it pulls into that town.
One of their offspring, a daughter, recently graduated from Virginia Tech. He's proud as a peacock (I couldn't resist) that she often rode the Smart Way Connector bus and Northeast Regional on trips home to see her folks.
Somewhat laboriously, Peacock gathered all of the "Name That Train" ideas suggested by The Roanoke Times readers from this column and my blog.
He assembled them in three separate binders. Bureaucrats love binders, he confided. One is red, one is green and the third is blue. In large letters on the outside, he summarized what they were about:
"Name Northeast Regional Trains. Increase Revenue and Ridership. 168 Names Already Suggested for Future Amtrak to Roanoke."
Peacock printed that on both the front and back covers. That seems a little odd, but he explained the strategy to me.
"No matter which way they toss them they can't fail to see it," he noted. The guy knows the mindsets of government workers down to a "T."
Each binder includes a letter from him, columns on the subject by yours truly and the list of names.
On July 16 he sent them to Joseph Boardman, Amtrak's chief executive officer. But Peacock didn't stop there.
He created a YouTube video which, at 3 1⁄2 minutes, displays an alphabetized list of each of the 168 train names you readers suggested. It features train sounds and video of the Northeast Regional in the background. You can see it at: tinyurl.com/mqr7tur .
All in all, it's a bang-up job for an ex-pesticide regulator. You've got to be impressed.
And what did Amtrak think of all these efforts? How hard is it going to be to get Amtrak to change the name of the monstrously boring "Northeast Regional" to something that evokes an appealing image, such as "Blue Ridge Mountaineer?"
I called Amtrak in Washington on Tuesday to find out, but didn't get very far. The flack I dealt with didn't seem to understand the question.
Let's just hope that they're too busy studying Peacock's binders.
"I'll give them two months," he told me. Then he'll write Amtrak again. And again.
Dan Peacock doesn't give up. And that's just one of the things I like about him.
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