Posts from June, 2010:

High Speed Rail: A Wisconsin Tradition

· Posted by Joshua in History

The Twin Cities Zephyr stopped at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
The Twin Cities Zephyr at the depot in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, c. 1940s. From the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society. WHi-24523. Photo by Art Hellberg.

With federal funding ready for a new high speed railway across Wisconsin, the next decade may see trains whizz between Madison and Milwaukee at top speeds of 110 mph. The rail plans are a matter of some debate today, but high speed trains were once taken for granted in Wisconsin. The new railroad, in fact, won’t even be that fast compared to the current leaders. State-of-the-art electric trains in China and France maintain average speeds from station to station as high as 175 to 190 mph, and can reach peak speeds over 200 mph. Wisconsin was not always so far behind.

From the 1930s to the 1950s — the golden age of the “streamliner” — railroad tracks in Wisconsin carried some of the world’s fastest regularly scheduled trains. Two companies, the Milwaukee Road (officially the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) and the Burlington Route (officially the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad), competed to race passengers between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The Milwaukee Road was the first to reach record speeds. Its “Twin Cities Hiawatha” started north from Chicago through Milwaukee to Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, Winona, and at last Minneapolis-St. Paul. Introduced in 1935, the Hiawatha was a lightweight train powered by some of the fastest steam engines ever built. The Milwaukee Road class A locomotive could reach top speeds over 110 mph, and its 1939 successor, the class F7, could go as fast as 125 mph. This allowed the Milwaukee Road to maintain a regular station-to-station schedule of 58 minutes from Portage to Sparta, Wisconsin, a 78.3 mile stretch. That required a sustained average speed of 81 mph, meaning that the Hiawatha ran the fastest station-to-station rail trip anywhere on earth at the time. No steam engine ever surpassed the Hiawatha’s station-to-station records.1

The Burlington Route could exceed the Milwaukee Road’s record only with more advanced technology: combination diesel-electric locomotives cased in stainless steel. Burlington’s “Twin Cities Zephyr” sped west from Chicago across Illinois and turned north to follow the Mississippi River after East Dubuque, passing through Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, and Pepin before arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul. Like the Hiawatha, the Zephyr entered service in 1935. In the 1940s and 1950s, refinements in the route allowed it to overtake the Hiawatha’s regular station-to-station record along the smooth, level tracks in the Mississippi River Valley. The Zephyr required an average speed of 84.4 mph to keep its schedule between Prairie du Chien and La Crosse, Wisconsin. The stretch from East Dubuque to Prairie du Chien was nearly as fast, averaging 84.0 mph. The Zephyr’s station-to-station average speeds through Western Wisconsin were the fastest in the world until 1957.2

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Steve Jobs: “not a sweatshop”

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

Apple iPhone 3GS
Apple iPhone 3GS.
Photo © 2009 Renato Mitra, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs spoke in California today and briefly defended working conditions at the Chinese factories that manufacture Apple’s high end consumer electronics. Here, though, are the numbers:

The U.S. retail price of Apple’s iPhone 3GS, 16GB:
The starting monthly salary of the workers who build the iPhone and iPad for Apple at a Foxconn manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China:
$131.77 (¥900)2
That salary expressed as an hourly wage for Foxconn employees who work six twelve-hour shifts a week:
$0.46 (¥3.13)3
Number of suicides and suicide attempts at Foxconn factories so far this year:
Amount by which Foxconn has now pledged to increase wages for assembly line workers:
30%5 (at the base rate, that is ¥270 or $39.53/month)
Price of stock in Apple Inc. on NASDAQ at the close of trading on June 2, 2010:
Amount by which the stock price in Apple Inc. has risen so far this year:
Date when Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world’s largest technology company by market capitalization:
May 27, 20108

Apple is not the only client of the Taiwan based Foxconn Technology Group. Devices sold by Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and others are also built at the very same Foxconn plants. It is Apple, however, that makes the greatest pretense at exclusivity — exacting the highest prices from American consumers, dispersing the wealth to Wall Street traders, and remaining content with the abysmal wages at its Chinese assembly lines. It is just one more reminder of who bears the burden for our cozy material lifestyle.

UPDATE (June 7, 2010): Under increased pressure, Foxconn has announced a 70% wage increase for its production line workers, on top of the aforementioned 30% increase — if workers can pass a three month performance review. Investors seem to dislike the idea of boosting employee wages, and shares in Foxconn’s parent company have fallen swiftly at the news. Read more: BBC News.

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