Happening Now

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

May 17, 2024

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An Appreciation of Tony Haswell

By Joe Aiello, Director of Community Organizing & Engagement

Life has a funny way of reminding you of who you are.

While your Association prepares to celebrate one more trip around the sun tomorrow, we have learned the sad news of the passing of our founder, Anthony Haswell, at the age of 94.

Anyone who knows me in the role has heard me say the title of this piece many times, but I do absolutely stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before me. And there may never be one bigger than Mr. Haswell.

I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I had done my fair share of research into the founding of this Association when I first joined the Council back in 2016. My objective? To learn who Mr. Haswell was, why he created our non-profit, and how our organization was able to have a huge hand in the formation of our national passenger rail operator.

For all its faults and warts, Al Gore’s internet can absolutely be a treasure trove of archived information. For example, I was able to find Congressional testimony from a series of Commerce subcommittee hearings in September 1969, hearings that Mr. Haswell was responsible for helping put together with a budding coalition of political allies. Around the discussion that passenger trains were more efficient than either flying or driving, Mr. Haswell was quoted:

“That capability of economical movement of trainloads of people is perhaps the most important reason why we should retain passenger service.”

Those hearings, and Mr. Haswell’s involvement, were directly responsible for the Railpax legislation being written and ultimately passed. The rest, as they say, is history.

There was an article from the New York Times in January 1970, just a few months after those hearing and before Railpax became law later that October, that profiled Mr. Haswell while on a trip to NY from Chicago via the Broadway Limited. One of my favorite parts in that article (and something I’m sure to get flack for) is that he wasn’t much of a “railfan” in the traditional sense.

“I don't run models and I don't go out and take pictures of trains anymore, and I'd rather be on the golf course than go on an excursion.”

He did this work for so many decades because he knew it was the right thing to do.

I, sadly, never got a chance to meet him and was hoping to make another trip or two out to Arizona in preparation for this fall’s meeting - but life had other plans. I wanted to thank him for what I do. If he didn’t take a chance to advocate for something he felt so passionate about, pull together a number of like-minded folks from around the country, and incorporate the National Association of Railroad Passengers in 1967, I would not have the job I do - and I would have zero reason to write this.

I’d like to think, in my own little way, I am carrying on that legacy.

So, on the eve of our 57th birthday - let’s raise a toast to the founder. May his memory always be a blessing and a reminder of why each one of us continues the fight for more trains, to more places, for more people.

Rest in power.