Tuesday, February 03, 2009

From the Editor: The battle lines are drawn—again

Written by 

By William C. Vantuono, Editor

February 2009 

Twenty-nine years after the Staggers Rail Act freed the railroads from the shackles of excessive regulation and sparked a renaissance, the specter of re-regulation is stalking the industry. Now before Congress are two pieces of legislation that have been floating around Capitol Hill for the better part of two years. One, as its proponents propagandize it, is designed to “improve competition” for captive shippers. The other will eliminate the “anti-trust exemption” the railroads currently “enjoy.”

 

Dire and unintended consequences could ensue if thra_7.october.57_cover.jpgis legislation becomes law. Every stakeholder in the industry, freight and passenger, will suffer—shippers included.

This special edition of Railway Age is designed to reacquaint Congress and other opinion leaders with why the Staggers Act of 1980 was passed in the first place, and what it has accomplished—particularly, the capital investments that have enabled growth, productivity, and reliable, high-quality service. The reality is that most of the legislators who were present for the signing of Staggers are no longer around. And, almost no one in Congress remembers the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s, when America’s railroads were on the brink of collapse, and nationalization was seriously considered. 

Railway Age is not new to this fight. More than a half-century ago—Oct. 7, 1957, to be exact—we published our landmark “Outrage” edition, which spelled out how the combined effects of government regulation and government-funded competition had seriously weakened the railroads. 

Masterminded by Executive Editor Joe W. Kizzia, “Outrage” went into more than one million reprints and is widely credited with jump-starting the movement within the industry and on Capitol Hill that resulted in Staggers 23 years later. The similarity between our two magazine covers is intentional, only this time, we’re trying to stop history from repeating itself.

“By stripping away needless and costly regulation in favor of marketplace forces wherever possible, this act will help assure a strong and healthy future for our nation’s railroads and the men and women who work for them,” President Jimmy Carter said when he signed Staggers in one of his last acts as chief executive. “It will benefit shippers throughout the country by encouraging railroads to improve their equipment and better tailor their service to shipper needs. America’s consumers will benefit, for rather than face the prospect of continuing deterioration of rail freight service, consumers can be assured of improved railroads delivering their goods with dispatch.”

Staggers, as we well know, did exactly that.

There is no sensible reason trwafebcv1.jpgo turn back the clock—especially now, when America’s economic recovery requires investment in efficient transportation. Why destroy nearly 30 years of steady, hard-fought progress?

Our special report, “Renaissance—or Retreat?”, represents an industry that speaks with one voice.

William Vantuono

With Railway Age since 1992, Bill Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age's leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts on operating passenger trains on freight railroads and communications-based train control.