Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Choo Choo Too

How did we get this way?  With freight trains?

Gah, it's been forever since I did any research on this.  Let me wing it.

  1. As a commenter noticed, passenger fares NEVER made any money.  From 1825 to now.  You never wanted them, gov't interference forces it on the Railways.
  2. A mixed system steps on each other's toes. Always.  
  3. Both freight and passenger service was failing by the 60s.  See A Prayer for Owen Meany about this late stage failure.
  4. All this led to company failures, to company consolidation, to RR assets getting bought up cheap by the few survivors.  With fewer players there was less competition and less overlap and it was cheap enough to CLOSE some lines.  Make the track mileage more efficient.  Less track meant less money spent on track maintenance.  But many areas were still being serviced.  By one or two companies instead of six.
  5. Failure and consolidation meant the powerful RR unions had less clout, and their antiquate featherbedding work rules meant that you no longer were required to have a caboose with expensive signalman doing the work a single electronic signal box on the last car could do.
  6. That leads to other technological advances.  Containerized sea freight meant more efficient loading and less spillage to stevedores and freightmen.  New cars that could haul 2 containers stacked and still make it under existing tunnels.  The retirement of high maintenance steam and replacing with low maintenance diesel locomotives...  All increased efficiencies and cut costs.
  7. The gov't no longer requiring lines to have passenger service but took over that role themselves.  And the private sector lines had a bit more priority over public sector people movers.  A mile long freight train is most efficient by accelerating to 30 miles per hour and with good scheduling NEVER altering speed until approaching a destination.  It takes priority over a 70 mph Amtrak.  With double track, passenger and freight still can't really co-exist, still.  You'd need at least triple, and probably quadruple to make it work together.   
So there you have it.  Less labor/union costs, mostly by cutting 70 year old work rules that make no sense in 1975 and just fewer guys to fire, at this point.  Efficiency gains from technology.  Less maintenance cost from rolling stock and track.  And less scheduling conflicts because folks are shifting to cars and Pan Am and TWA and Eastern airlines to move themselves about.  Less 'toe stepping' by the half of the industry that never ever worked.  Passengers.  The only reason a train should hurry is because the tomatoes and avocados might over ripen.  

I see the appeal, the romance, of passenger rail.  It's just a HUGE pipe dream.  Unviable.  Like wind and solar electrical generation. If you want to ride the rails, be a hobo. 

One thing.  This 'greatest railway system on the planet, just for freight not stoopid people' all didn't happen overnight.  Took time.  While the dust settled, something had to cover the bases, and we got the romance of the 18 wheeler truck driver and their CB radios!

Another big plus?  You can't export internal supply delivery to the far east like you can electronics and steel and auto production.  So an industry can become a shambles and yet rise from the ashes, here, when you find it impossible to offshore it. 


ProudHillbilly said...

Can't get from here to Detroit via train. +14 hours to get to Toledo, then a bus to Detroit. Flying is about as irritating. Plus I can't take my dog. So I drive. About 10 hours including pee and walkies stops.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Oh, by the time you drive to the airport, park, go through check in, wait around, get on the plane, fly an hour, switch to another plane, then fly another hour, then get your bags, then get your rental car, then drive to your nearby destination... That took longer than just driving. More expensive too. From DC to Detroit Michigan or Syracuse NY or Louisville Kentucky or even Atlanta. Maybe Charleston. Indy.

Beans said...

Passenger trains can work, but only in specific instances. In Florida, Brightlines (a private relatively high-speed passenger rail service) is working with the Florida East Coast to double rail the FEC line from Miami to Cocoa and to provide a newer rail management system so as to allow freight and semi-high-speed rail on the same two tracks.

Of course, this is also happening at the same time that the FEC is doing some major rebuilding of the mainline, adding more side tracks and switches to allow trains to shift from one track to another.

But the focus is always Freight First. Will be interesting to see how this develops.

Divemedic said...

The only entity to profit from that will be Disney, when tourists can take the train from Miami to the Mouse.