Trains and engineers
Readers are not optimistic about the prospects for high-speed rail in the U. S. They’re possibly even more pessimistic about the future of the engineering profession.
Philosophically I have no issues with high-speed rail (“High-speed railcars with nobody in them,“ April 6). But I would also be content with current trains if they could get me to my destination as fast as a car. I recently looked into taking a trip from Santa Cruz to San Diego. Amtrak was only a few bucks more than an airline ticket but the trip would have taken almost 13 hours. If Amtrak could have gotten me there in only 4 to 6 hours, I would have considered it, given all the options (reading, relaxing, and eating) the ride would have provided. There should be a viable compromise between a bullet train and what we have now.
The French TGV trains use front and rear power cars. Passengers cars ride between them. And there are no grade crossings, for the simple reason that you can look both ways, see nothing, and still get flattened before you could cross the tracks. As usual, the USA is decades behind them.
I found your editorial on high-speed rail very interesting. It saddens me to see the U. S. so far behind in advanced train technology and implementation. And as you pointed out, with such strict FRA requirements, it is highly unlikely we will ever see high-speed rail here.
It reminds me of the NRC and the collapse of our nuclear program in the 1970s. If not for their strict requirements, we could be well on our way to independency from foreign oil.
Maybe we should fund R&D into using the strong and lightweight materials pioneered in aerospace programs for high-speed railcars.
Syed M. Kadri
All of what you say is probably true, I’m also sure that if the Wright Brothers were starting out today, you would argue that it would never be safe enough for the government to allow planes to carry passengers. The worse part of it is that you would be correct. We are so afraid of our shadows today that in 20 years we won’t be a third-world country; we’ll be a fourth-world country so afraid to do anything that we will end up in another horse-and-buggy age, but with roll-over structures on the buggies. Between the naysayers and the lawyers, we are becoming a crippled country.
Believe it or not, a life worth living is dangerous, exciting, and deadly. Being wrapped in a cocoon of absolute safety with constant litigation all around may seem like living to you, but it scares me. Build the train I want to ride and if I die riding it, then so be it.
The future of engineering
As usual, your editorial (“Engineering students who don’t go into engineering,” May 6) is right on target. However, the lack of money is not the only compelling reason to get out of engineering. Low job security is another factor. Engineers are smart and it does not take a great deal of time in industry before these people see engineering jobs being shifted to China, India, and Russia at an alarming rate.
It started with menial task work such as fabric and clothing manufacturing. Now, virtually everything we used to make here is made in China. We took our equipment over there, taught them how to use it, and shifted assembly and other technical jobs in an ever-increasing drain from our manufacturing segment. Now we are seeing our engineering jobs going, too. I have seen this at the place I work. We now have plants in China and Russia, which manufacture and assemble the vast majority of industrial machines my company builds. Management has already tried shifting engineering over there and if they had people who could do the job right, I would not be e-mailing you from my office today. Fortunately, the Chinese and others are still far behind us when it comes to designing quality equipment that actually works. But I am not delusional enough to think this will always be the case.
Whenever I have the chance, I advise young people to stay out of engineering. Most positions no longer pay enough to provide a good living for a family and they will never have job security regardless of how well they perform at their work. Rather, I suggest a trade such as plumbing, electrical, carpentry, whatever they think they would be most happy doing for 30 or 40 years.
A trade requires a much-lower investment in time and money for a two-year degree. They will graduate making about the same money as entry-level engineers, but by the time they retire, they will most likely be making more money than their engineering counterparts. That is a fact here in Indiana. I have friends in all those trades making more money than I, some with far fewer years experience. Secondly, they will never have to worry about customers calling a company in China to come fix their toilet or wire an outlet.
My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father... all engineers. Believe me, it pains me to give this advice to young people, but if nothing else, as an engineer I am a realist and won’t lie to them. Who knows how many future families I have saved from hardship down the road.
The fact that technical folk are poorly treated in comparison to other “professionals” is nothing new. In fact, the ancient Greek God of forges — Hephaestus — was the only God who was lame. And that seems to have been due to the common practice at the time of crippling the village blacksmith so they couldn’t leave for greener pastures.
If it weren’t for the fact that engineering is usually so dang fun, there wouldn’t be any engineers.
S. A. Kiteman
It seems young engineers today are more concerned with advancement than applying their skills. Most have seen that just being a great engineer will not make them successful in today’s business world. They have also seen engineering principles compromised for the sake of profits, and those who gained the most were in upper management. Seeing this and the decline of older engineer’s careers, often times their fathers, has changed their outlook on a long-term career in engineering. Most will move into management to succeed.
I’ve been an engineer for 36 years, and I can’t say I’m surprised at the statistics. If you aren’t satisfied by engineering work, there are much-better paying jobs out there that don’t carry the same pressures, hassles, and the thanklessness. It’s been my observation that after a while, a lot of engineers become managers or salespeople, where the pay is usually much better.
In the late 1800s through the early 1900s, engineers were nearly worshipped and, it seems, paid very well. What changed? Were they just smarter then? Was the training too difficult for any but the most intelligent? Was it more of an “art” being that there were far fewer analytical tools available then? Or were there fewer people available for the education required due to costs and social status? Maybe there just fewer engineers.