The Balancing Act of Passenger and Freight Rail


The City Block posted some weekend reading that I did not get to read until today — but it’s worth sharing since it provides a briefing on one of the biggest challenges of establishing new passenger rail systems: working with freight rail companies.

The blog post discusses the tension between freight rail and passenger rail in America. Many freight companies have been cautious about allowing passenger rail on their lines, for fear of slowing down business deliveries (due to the frequent stops that passenger rail usually has to make). Here’s an excerpt that gets at the core of the matter:

One core issue is defining the best balance between public and private interests.  America’s railroads are private enterprises, and back in the day where they dominated all travel and enjoyed de facto monopolies on various markets, they were regulated accordingly.  As transportation infrastructure financing shifted towards public funding (such as the interstate highway system), the regulatory structure did not evolve to meet the new realities. The current debate is essentially one of re-defining the proper roles for each of the partners in this mother of all public-private partnerships.

How can passenger rail and freight rail come together to be effective and efficient? What sort of incentives might convince freight rail companies to share its lines with passenger rail? Let me know your thoughts.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on July 26, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Transportation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. RR companies make decisions that work for them and their shareholders, ignoring the public good and the fact that the rights of way are really part of the commons. [In many cases, it was deeded to the RR at low or no cost.] In reality, it should be nationalized — but even if the existing RR companies were contracted to maintain it, how would that be regulated?

    The regulatory approach has failed in most sectors, as can be seen from the deterioration of most nuclear power plants [including near-meltdown situations], the widespread public health problems and environmental degradation from resource extraction [think hydraulic fracturing, the Deepwater Horizon disaster & MountainTop Removal mining in Appalachia], the financial meltdown and subsequent bailout of those who caused the problem, and almost any other sector you pick. The revolving door between industry and regulatory agencies almost guarantees that they system will work for the benefit of those they regulate, and this is only complicated by the fact that the corporations control Congress and most state legislatures, including PA. We can see the results all around us: corporations will continue to plunder the commons, rape the earth, and even make us bail them out when they fail.

    I think it is possible to have a functional government and regulatory system, but it will only happen if people stand up and refuse to accept life as mere consumers and spectators.

  2. Freight rail and passenger rail can share the same tracks, but only if the passenger rail advocates push politically for this.

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