12/13/2019

Why Passenger Railways are Terrible and Freight Railways are Amazing

"The U.S. freight railway system, conversely, is the envy of the world, and this is not hyperbole or chest thumping; the facts back it up. Since the Staggers Act of 1980, which deregulated freight rail, improvements have been substantial. U.S. freight railways carry 81% more ton-miles of freight, and costs have fallen 46%. (It isn’t common for an industry to increase its capacity by 81% while reducing costs by nearly half.) That level of success has even been noted by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, which might be surprising, given the common assumption that Europe has a monopoly on rail excellence. 

Compared side by side, it seems a conundrum: Amtrak limps along, still relying upon billions of dollars worth of taxpayer-financed subsidies, while U.S. freight railways evince growing profitability and capacity amid rapidly falling costs. Why are U.S. freight rails so profitable when U.S. passenger rail – sometimes traveling the same routes, on some of the same rails – remains a perennial money pit?"