Friday, April 11, 2008

Empty Train Tracks

Between Eddy's Corner and Lewistown there is a long stretch of train track that is used so seldom that the railroad is using it to store several miles' worth of container cars. At the same time, gas prices are climbing toward $4/gallon and truck drivers are feeling the pinch, which increases prices on everything they carry. The logical response to these two trends is to start moving freight by trains again. It would make use of idle infrastructure, lower transport prices since trains are more fuel-efficient freight carriers than trucks, minimize road maintenance, and reduce traffic on the highways; truckers wouldn't be eliminated since they would still be needed for the short hauls at the end of the trip.

The problem is the railroads, which seem to be stuck in the 19th century. Reports of lost or delayed cars are common; if shippers can't rely on the trains to deliver goods reliably and on time, they will stick with trucks regardless of the costs. The trick would be to get one of the logistics firms like UPS or DHL to organize the train network so that freight could be reliably and efficiently moved across the country. Then the US could allocate resources in a logical and efficient manner, putting most freight on the rails and leaving the roads for passengers and short-haul trucks.

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