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Failed rails

November 27, 2008

Re "Vanishing points," Nov. 23

Mark Ruwedel's pictures of abandoned railways in the West resonated with me.

Many of those dead lines were built between 1850 and the stock market crash of 1929. Railroads were the hot technology then, and the public bought railroad stock with dreams of getting rich quick.

Some of these were start-ups making no profit but building track like crazy to beat the competition for business that was sure to come. This speculation contributed to a series of market panics in the latter half of the 19th century and possibly the crash of 1929.

It was a lot like the dot-com frenzy in the 1990s, and it fizzled. As Ruwedel states, "There was something of 'Fitzcarraldo' in all of this," referring to the film by Werner Herzog, who called himself a "Conquistador of the Useless." Those remnants of failed railroads can evoke futility or manifest destiny. But I, having learned the real motivation for their existence, see them now as symbols of our financial system gone wrong.

Frank E. Roberts

Temecula

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