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Trains are central to America's history and identity. Restoring their prominence can lead us into a sustainable, vibrant future.
Trains are what united the United States. A network of steel rails transformed America from a disparate collection of communities unified only on paper into a country that thought of itself as one unit.
Now, the Millennial generation of Americans is faced with social and environmental challenges that arose as a consequence of the untamed growth and poorly-regulated exploitation of natural resources that the railroads helped bring about. Yet, strange as it may seem, the railroads may help us transition into a livable, sustainable future by bringing the country back to its roots.
I am keenly aware of my generation's responsibility to begin to heal the planet, having engaged with many issues of sustainability. I am also a seasoned train traveler and a representative of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which is working to bring back to America a robust national network of modern passenger trains.
My project--an annotated photographic essay and a short documentary film--would invite readers and viewers to join me on the journey and discover these truths about trains' past, present and future role in American life through the experience of the trip and through the voices of my fellow travelers and those we meet at the stops along the way. I would let fellow travelers and some of those I meet along the way explain what attracted them to the train journey, talk about what they’ve discovered through their experiences with trains, and discuss trains' role in the future as they envision it.
To take readers and viewers along on a journey to discover trains' past, present and future role in American life through the experience of the Millennial Trains Project's transcontinental odyssey and through the voices of my fellow travelers and those we meet at the stops along the way.
The social entrepreneurs who will take part in the MTP journey, each of whom seek to play a role in this historic time of transition, were attracted to the idea of train travel, and my work will get to the heart of what it is about trains that captivates people--and reveal how that force of attraction can be used to bring about resilient sustainable, local economies linked by energy-sipping, land-conserving ribbons of steel.
My project would also chronicle the images of the places and the voices of people I encounter along the way, threading together experiences of trains and rail travel and envisioning trains' role in America's future.
I will produce both a short documentary film and an annotated photographic essay, both of which will be made available to the public online and shared and publicized through the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
Hailing from Greensboro, North Carolina, Malcolm Kenton graduated in 2008 from Guilford College (Greensboro) with High Honors. He earned a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies. He is a longtime political and environmental activist and rail advocate. Passenger train issues were a central component of Malcolm’s senior research project at Guilford, which included a documentary film called Re-Training America. He interned in Washington with the Humane Society of the United States and The American Prospect magazine, where he wrote online content. He has worked for several political campaigns and been involved in numerous grassroots organizations.