Tag Archives: railroads

Short interviews with small magazine publishers

Magazine publishing is a dark art. But the world of niche publishing—people who create magazines for necrophiliacs or donkey hobbyists, or for those of us who like to ride really small trains—features its own requirements.

Miniature Railway is hardly nostalgic. Henshaw is in the midst of creating a comprehensive map of all the miniature railways in the United Kingdom. “We estimate there are 1000 in total, but many are private, known only to a small group of friends. I have agreed to only show 400.” Henshaw admits that “quite a few” of those 400 are private. In August, The Telegraph wrote a feature on the “irresistible” romantic allure of a garden steam train. Apparently a popular activity among enthusiasts is cooking bacon and eggs in a shovel over the burning coals of a miniature train’s engine.

“There are many miniature railway enthusiasts in Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Germany, and a few in India too,” Henshaw says. “Most other nationalities find the whole subject perplexing.”

Miniature Railway’s ads are what you might expect: miniature railway destination spots, model train expos, and a locomotive plates maker in Droitwich (“NOT the cheapest, PERHAPS the most expensive, PROBABLY the best.”) The articles are also what you might expect—fascinating to the miniature railway enthusiast, slightly Greek to the rest of us. In the magazine’s pictures, Caledonian blue–polished trains snake through tall-treed woods and people convivially gather near cobbled tracks.

I wouldn’t imagine the cozy ethos of this digest-sized publication would translate well into digital modes, and David Henshaw more or less agrees. “I suspect that most small publications will go digital within a few years, but Miniature Railway is one of the few that will not.” One of the merchandise items featured on the back cover includes a heavy-duty binder with gold embossed letters intended to hold print copies. “Our readership is older, more traditionally minded.” Henshaw does express concern that soon there will not be enough printers around to print at a reasonable price—the print run per issue, which comes out tri-annually, is 800 and costs $1,800 (yearly subscriptions are $12 a year domestically).

Henshaw calls the economics of paper dubious. “These are interesting days!”

Warren Buffett’s $26 billion gamble on the next big thing

This is huge

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is purchased by Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway

Most investors looking for the "next big thing" seek out whiz-bang investments like alternative energy, lifesaving biotech drugs, handheld Internet devices and, for doomsayers, hard assets like gold.

Railroads, which had their heyday in another era, are rarely mentioned as a must-have investment for those looking to get rich.

So why is Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s most famous and successful investor, betting more than $26 billion of his spare cash to acquire all of Texas-based railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe?

On Tuesday, Buffett turned heads on Wall Street when he placed his biggest bet of his career on rails — and the battered USA economy, for that matter.

Here is why he is doing it.

"Burlington Northern Santa Fe last year moved, on average, a ton of goods 470 miles on a single gallon of diesel, and society has an enormous interest in using less oil to transport goods," Buffett says.

Indeed, Buffett very much likes the green component to his rail investment, likening it to an energy-saving play.

"Each train displaces 280 trucks on the road," Buffett says. "When it comes to spewing pollutants there is nothing more efficient than trains. It is very much in line with the future goals of society. While the railroads won’t take over the world it is something that is part of the future."

Okay, this is why this is interesting to me.  Buffett is making a massive investment based on the idea that Peak Oil is real and it’s going to influence how we travel, move goods, and our way of life.  You also can’t notice that in some ways, he is betting against cars or at least how expensive it is going to be to get from Point A to Point B.  That is something that will reshape not only the transportation of goods but cities, how we interact as communities, and where we live.  It’s something that you never hear from government officials, probably because governments are good at a lot of things but planning for the future is not one of them.

It’s a conversation that the church needs to have.  For the last two decades the idea has been big campuses with lots of parking on the outskirts of town or in the suburbs.  The question I have is as gas prices rise, those in lower income brackets will see their world get a lot smaller, will the churches just be refuges for those who are rich enough to get to them or even worse, will the impact on the church, be the same as it expected for sprawling and emptying out suburbs.