Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Here are two statistics from 2008 about America’s freight railroads:


*They carried 2 billion tons of freight, versus 10 billion for trucks.


*Yet when you consider ton-miles, freight railroads moved 1.9 trillion ton-miles of freight in 2008, while trucks moved just 1.3 trillion. Ton-miles is a way to measure the amount of freight moved over distance. For instance, 20 ton-miles is 20 tons of freight moved one mile, or any other mathematical combination like 5 tons of freight moved 4 miles.


So our American freight railroad network actually is one-and-a-half times more essential to our economy than the trucking industry because it moves lots of really heavy stuff, like coal, over long distances, up to 2,000 miles. In fact the railroads move huge amounts of cargo that never even could be carried efficiently on trucks. So they are vastly more essential.


Yet few Americans seem to know about our private-sector freight railroad system because it serves industry and commerce by moving coal, chemicals, grain, food, cars, car parts, steel, plastic, consumer products and every other thing under the sun. But since most of our media are concentrated on the “soft” side of America (arts, leisure, service industries, entertainment, sports etc.), most Americans do not know about our freight system, but only think that our railroads are dead because we do not have a passenger train system like Europe.


This is complete nonsense. The United States has far and away the best railroad system in the world. Its four main players – Union Pacific and BNSF in the West, and Norfolk Southern and CSX in the East, operating in 48 states – carry freight only and the system’s capacity dwarfs the combined capacity of all of Europe’s passenger systems. It employs 250,000 people, generates about $40 billion annually in revenues, has 30,000 locomotives in service, needs zero subsidy from the government and pays taxes to the government. Many ‘priority’ or ‘hotshot’ freight trains run thousands of miles on passenger-train schedules, with to-the-minute departure and arrival times.


Nonetheless, America’s liberals continue to complain that we need some European-type passenger railroad system to solve the problem of increasing traffic congestion. But in the very first government-sponsored intercity rail project ever, Obama put $8 billion into his stimulus bill to build a high-speed railroad between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.


Fact is, however, that there is little congestion between those two cities. There are many more congested areas that could have used a high-speed rail line to relieve traffic. But Obama and the Democrats are not really interested in addressing the traffic problem with a railroad system.


They are interested in building things based on a corrupt spoils system, projects that are not even necessary. The LA-Las Vegas route was funded for one reason only: To funnel money and jobs into the pockets of the politicians and chosen workers in Nevada Democrat US senator Harry Reid’s Las Vegas district, and in ultra-liberal California.


The line will probably never get built. The environmentalists and no-growth activists will obstruct it, as they will obstruct all new passenger railroad lines. In fact, they do everything they can to obstruct crucial upgrades to the freight system which still is running almost exclusively in corridors established in the 19th century and early 20th.


For example, BNSF is today double-tracking a stretch of its route in New Mexico through a place called Abo Canyon. You can read about it here BNSF is largely double-tracked on its ‘Transcon’ route from Chicago to Los Angeles allowing up to 60 trains a day to run high speed in both directions without stopping.


But Abo Canyon is single track and trains have to wait there for other trains to pass through. It is a big bottleneck.


Some environmentalists tried to stop the double-tracking, saying that it would disrupt the beauty of Abo Canyon. But what environmentalists really do is obstruct everything that comes along and then expect a company like BNSF to fight hard and spend lots of money to get projects like Abo built. This is intended to drain capital out of corporate America and weaken it because environmentalists are also largely anti-capitalists.


So what is Abo Canyon? From the name you might think that it is some dramatic and unique landform whose precious habitat must be preserved. But if you go to YouTube, you can see a clip of a train ride through Abo  here


What you will see is that Abo is just a 4.5 mile stretch of scrub desert with some low hills around it that is not in any way unique or scenic. But enviros don’t care. They saw a project and tried to obstruct it.


Now imagine that it is 1920 and America is deciding how to develop its transportation network. Imagine that the government proposed a high-speed coast-to-coast railroad passenger network that would get people from New York to Los Angeles or Washington, DC to San Francisco in just six hours.


Imagine that the government said that the system would cost $10 trillion in today’s money.


The average environmentalist/liberal today would be totally supportive of such a system, even at its high cost. Yet today we indeed have such a system and it has cost the taxpayer nothing. It is called the airline system and it is completely private and pays taxes to the government, like our private-sector freight railroad system. It is the most efficient mass transit system in the world because it saves people vast amounts of time and does not need any land except for airports.


And what do the liberal media say about our private airlines? They criticize them every minute of every day. They criticize their on-time record despite the fact that planes have difficult weather to contend with all the time. They complain about lost luggage, small seats and service. They complain about long waits on the tarmac.


And they complain about crowded airports. Yet like our freight railroad lines, most airports today are the ones that were first built in America because enviros are obstructing any new airport construction. Only one major new airport has been built in America in the last 20 years, the new facility outside Denver. So airports are crowded because the system has not been allowed to expand to accommodate increasing numbers of passengers.


In 1978, the airlines were deregulated. Before then, air travel was restricted primarily to wealthy people. But deregulation opened it up to the masses, and ticket prices dropped. Today the airline industry sells about 750 million tickets per year, versus 25 million for Amtrak.


So indeed we have something much better than Europe’s high-speed passenger trains. Our high-speed system runs at 600 miles per hour, rather than 150 MPH maximum like European trains. And it pays taxes to the government instead of requiring government subsidies.


But that does not stop the media from complaining endlessly about our airlines. At the same time, of course, you never hear from the media about the abysmal performance and terrible condition of our government-run Amtrak. That is excused since Amtrak is run by bureaucrats and labor unions.


You know, the people that Democrats want running everything in America.


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.