Shipping Big Iron & Rail Right-Of-Way Abandonment

From: Matthew Sell <>
Date: Wed Mar 6 09:53:18 2002

The biggest cause for decline for railroading in the 60's and 70's was
World War 2. Believe it or not, WWII was very detrimental to the American

The government imposed restrictions on pricing for shipment; these
restrictions were to keep "the evil railroads" from making "windfall
profits" (sound familiar? kinda like those "evil oil companies" today....).

The traffic levels were the highest in history. Coming out of the Great
Depression, railroads were faced with the prospect of having to pour huge
amounts of money into infrastructure to improve roadbed, bridges, and to
purchase new rolling stock and locomotives. Purchasing new equipment wasn't
enough, though, and the railroads had to waste large amounts of time and
money rebuilding equipment that was going to be retired or scrapped. In
order to meet demand, the railroads were having to make 40 and 50-year old
equipment ready for heavy use.

During the war, maintenance on equipment was deferred. Rail lines couldn't
be taken out for critical service, like replacing ties, regrading ballast,
cleaning ballast, resurfacing rail, and so on. Every available locomotive
and freight/passenger car was needed to support the immense traffic that
was generated by the industries in full war-production mode.

After the war ended, the government wouldn't allow the railroads to
increase shipping rates to required levels to pay for the deferred
maintenance. At the time, the Interstate Commerce Commission restricted the
rates the railroads could charge shippers. The ICC didn't want to make
shippers mad, so they blamed the "evil railroads" for attempting to gouge
the customer, and the rates weren't allowed to increase to the level
required to pay back the demands of WWII.

As the road system in America improved, people wanted to travel by car and
plane rather than by train. Again, the government decided to screw the
railroads - the railroads weren't allowed to stop passenger service on
routes that were losing money.

And so it went - the rail system was in such a horrible shape due to
deferred maintenance, shipping rates were artificially low, and the general
public abandoned the rail passenger system.

Railroad "giants" like the Pennsylvania and the New York Central had to
merge to stay alive. Later, the government finally formed Conrail to
prevent the virtual collapse of the North-Eastern rail network. Conrail was
formed from the Penn Central and several other once great railroads. Then
the abandonment of whole rail networks began.

It's been only within the last 10-20 years that railroads have been making
a comeback. There are expansions happening, some lines that were
single-tracked to save money are now being double-tracked to handle the
increased capacity. Some railroads are even attempting to break back into
the "LCL" (less than carload) market again, and with the ability to use the
Internet to book and track shipments and pay with credit cards. This may
sound trivial to us as consumers, since we have been doing that for a while
with companies like FedEx and UPS, but for an industry that is 172 years
old - it's a step in the right direction.

We now resume our regularly scheduled computer broadcast. This has been a
test of the emergency "off-topic" system.

: )

Really though, the application of technology with the railroad system is
fascinating. Remote control of locomotives, satellite monitoring, automatic
throttle corrections based on GPS positioning, centralized traffic control,
it's all a very neat segment of technology to be interested in.

         - Matt

At 01:25 AM 3/6/2002 -0500, you wrote:
> I imagine one of the contributing factors to the problems with
> railroads is
>their intense unionization. Nothing like a union to impede progress. It
>about took an act of Congress to get them to accept those caboose lamps,
>instead of cabooses. The only reason it went through was because the
>railroad could get more profit (one less car to pull), and that goes into
>the profit sharing plan.
Received on Wed Mar 06 2002 - 09:53:18 GMT

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