Friday, May 17, 2013

Rail crisis illuminates need to make the railroads public.

Today an accident happened in Connecticut where two passengers trains collided head on in an accident. The trains were going opposite directions on the same track and hit each other. Reuters

The cause of this is very clear. I have ridden AMTRAK several times this year and I know exactly why this happened. Our railways are mostly privately owned. We don't have clear laws on northbound or southbound railways. We don't have clear rules for passing. If we did than there would never be a case where the passenger train has to stop and have a freight train go past because there is only one track at that place for both directions. Imagine if the freeway was like this.

The reason is because our railways are not owned by the government, they are owned by private companies. They don't manage the railways to work effectively, Imagine if our highways were done the same way. Imagine if the railways in the South were owned by UPS, by FedEx in the Northeast, and by Swift in the West. In order to save money these trucking companies decided that there was no need for two lanes across Snoqualmie Pass east of Seattle, or no need for two lanes around Lake Tahoe, and they were going to have the cars and trucks alternate in order to save money on paving in these conditions. No other trucking companies may use the roads they own, and if there is a truck in one of these bottlenecks than other people just have to wait and let the trucks go through. There is a toll every 50 miles or so, and the rates are high because otherwise you would go on surface streets maintained by counties, which no one will do. Another way would be saying "you can drive in the right lane, or the left lane, it's a free country you know!" which is of course absurd and dangerous.

This is how America's train system works.

A question I have had is what would keep a Chinese, Russian, or North Korean firm from buying out CSX, Norfolk Southern, or another major American rail operator? They wouldn't just have trains they are delivering, they would own a vital part of America's infrastructure. Something to think about.

We really need to own our railways through the government so that there can be clear regulations and that there can be competition in the industry. This will help both passenger trains and commerce. It will help consumers because there will be more options available to ship by freight trains (which are the most energy efficient form of transportation) and AMTRAK will be able to be run on time and eventually be less expensive because trains will fill up, which will increase AMTRAK's largest source of revenue bringing it closer to having a surplus.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with many points on the post, but the cause of this accident was that one line derailed, forcing a car from one train onto the track of the other...