Build a national trackway system

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments

One hundred years ago, rail lines crisscrossed the country and provided low-cost passenger and freight service to cities and towns everywhere. The advent of automobiles and airplanes, government development of highways and airways, and imposition of punitive shipping regulations placed the railroad companies at a competitive disadvantage.    Today this nation’s once-great rail transportation system has been torn up and mostly abandoned.   The Interstate Highway System and the National Airways System now give the trucking and airline industries a free ride. Meanwhile, the rail industry must build and maintain its own trackways. This unfair competition places the rail industry at a disadvantage and inhibits its natural economic superiority.   People in the Congress and the Obama administration are now talking about building a nation-wide high-speed passenger rail system connecting cities with 200-mph passenger rail service. I am dubious of the Federal Government ever developing a successful large-scale passenger rail service. By successful, I mean profitable and in a timely fashion. The old ConRail was a failure and Amtrak has never been profitable. We have little to suggest that the government would be any more successful with a high-speed system.   The politicians’ high-speed passenger rail proposals ignore the freight side of the equation. They also ignore the problem of integrating passenger and freight traffic and the need for greatly improved trackway designs.   A few years ago, my family and I traveled from Lorton, VA, to Orlando, FL, on the Amtrak Auto-train. The Auto-train is one of Amtrak's better ideas because it allows travelers to take their own vehicles with them – a particular benefit for those with specially-equipped automobiles. Overall, the overnight trip was pleasant but the ride was terrible and I couldn’t sleep. I was appalled to look out and see the train running down the main streets of town after town along the way. Compared to the Interstate Highway System, the railway system design between here and Florida is positively archaic.   Instead of expanding an already-nationalized Amtrak, we should nationalize existing track-way systems. Rail companies across the country have developed highly-sophisticated rail technology and are using it successfully and profitably. Buying up these private trackway systems and establishing a National Trackway System, free and open to all, would open a new era in transportation in this country.   A National Trackway System utilizing a high-level design similar to the Interstate Highway System would bypass cities and towns and segregate through traffic from local traffic. Bridges and overpasses would replace at-grade road crossings and eliminate the possibility of collisions between cars or school buses. Where justified, four-lane trackways would segregate fast freight traffic from faster passenger trains. Modern rail and tie designs would allow both freight and passenger trains to run much faster and more productively than today’s designs. Much of the mainline trackway now in use is computer controlled in a manner analogous to the National Airways System. An expanded control system would facilitate scheduling and movement of traffic between segments of the NTS.   In engineering terms (ton-miles per BTU or ton-miles per dollar), rail transportation is twenty times more productive than highway transport. The U. S. Air Force uses C-5 and C-17 transports because they can quickly fly cargo in large lumps over long distances. The trucking industry carries cargo in tiny lumps compared to the rail industry but is given a huge competitive advantage by government favoritism.   Goods arrive in this country in huge container ships. The most productive and logical way to move that containerized freight away from ports of entry is by rail. If we are to remain competitive as an industrial nation, we must improve the design of our rail systems to reduce transportation costs for American-manufactured goods trying to get out of this country.   Providing an appropriately-designed trackway system would stimulate the growth of private companies providing high-speed passenger service. It would also eliminate the need for the government to do something it has never done successfully: run railroad companies.

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