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PC: failure of the railroads

Today the nations railroads carry less than 10% of the goods shipped measured in gross tons or gross revenue.  The balance is carried primarily by truck  This has not changed much over the years, even with the change in the political climate (deregulation via the Stagers Act). Recent developments in the industry trying to win back the lost tonnage include scheduled freight trains, increased track speeds, contracts with large shippers that penalize the RR if the goods aren't delivered at the agreed to time.  These and many other efforts will not reverse the fortunes of today's railroads unless there is change of mindset by the public at large.  The same effort to get big, and getting bigger, trucks off of the nations congested highways as was made to clean up the air and water and save the spotted owl.  In other words we have to have spokespersons who not take NO for an answer.  Ironically, it is the clean air/water efforts that are part of the demise of the railroads.  No one wants smokestack industry in their community.   Only those persons who want the jobs, want the factories.  The rest of us would rather not be bothered.  That coupled with the fact that corporations are moving manufacturing outside the country in the pursuit of cheaper labor and more favorable tax rates to increase profits.  I guess that you could  sum it up by saying that railroads, like any other business, must have a reason to exist.  The northeast does not provide many reasons, and has not for years.  Each years end sees even fewer reasons.  That is way there is no more Conrail.  Management did not see any way to grow the business in the service area and decided that it was in the stockholders best interest to sell.  The same set of circumstances existed in the days of NYC, PRR, NH, LV, Reading, EL, L&NE etc..  At that time the ICC did not allow the railroads to walk away from non profitable pieces of rail.  In fact the ICC made it very difficult to pack it in, mandating that rail service continue for the sake of the economic health of the communities and industries that remained on line.  Yes there were abandonment's,  but the railroads bled cash for a long time before they were allowed to abandon the rail in question, by the ICC.
There are many other reasons for the decline of the railroads.  It is a complex story, and there are differences of opinion on every facet of that story.  The Penn Central story is also complex.  The railroad struggled with archaic work rules, a rapidly declining industrial base, governments looking for tax revenue had a strangle hold on a captive industry, and a regulatory agency with a cast in concrete mindset.
Will the remaining lines continue?  Probably.  The economies of scale suggest that they will.  However the demand for re-regulation, and the concept of  'Shared Trackage", or the movement to have the federal government take over the ownership of the right of way could have serious negative impact on railroads as we have come to know and enjoy them.
Jim Kingston
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