Frank N. Wilner is author of six books, including, Amtrak: Past, Present, Future; Understanding the Railway Labor Act; and, Railroad Mergers: History, Analysis, Insight. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics and labor relations from Virginia Tech. He has been assistant vice president, policy, for the Association of American Railroads; a White House appointed chief of staff at the Surface Transportation Board; and director of public relations for the United Transportation Union. He is a past president of the Association of Transportation Law Professionals.
Unraveling the knot restricting rail network fluidity cannot be achieved through Surface Transportation Board (STB) intimidation of rail CEOs, or by the agency's issuance of an emergency service order instructing one railroad to operate over the tracks of another, or by merging the nation's seven major rail systems into a North American duopoly.
"Tawdry," is how one Washington transportation attorney describes the self-interest assaults by powerful congressional lawmakers on federal regulatory agency officials.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) ruled Sept. 2 that five Class I railroads—BNSF, U.S. affiliates of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific—are revenue adequate. That is, they achieved a rate of return on investments used to provide railroad service that is at least equal to the average cost of that investment capital.
News item: Vouchsafed to work jointly in gaining legislation or regulation mandating two crew members on every freight train are the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union (SMART) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
Moving homogeneous electrons through wires, or freight in trucks over publicly financed highways, is hardly akin to moving cargo over privately owned and maintained railroads.
A recurring and intractable thread tying together railroad history is that when the choice has been between economic liberty and government intrusion, selecting the latter has repetitively discouraged capital investment, diminished service quality, adversely affected safety, and sooner than later caused hand-wringing among those most dependent on rail transportation.
This is about a highway homicide — and we know who dunnit. The perp long ago was identified by state and federal authorities. Yet Congress refuses to order the collar, closing its eyes to a mayhem playing out at every hour, on every federal-aid roadway and adversely affecting every taxpayer and every motorist in the wallet, while simultaneously turning on its head the concept of economic efficiency.
That President Obama mentioned not a word on high speed rail or Amtrak in his State of the Union speech reflects on the rather dreadful manner in which his administration has pursued the presidential vision in support of expanded rail passenger service.
Don’t assume, based on headlines, an obituary for high speed rail just yet. A more accurate analogy is an induced coma brought on by poor planning and implementation amidst an increased necessity to pare federal deficits.