Regular readers know that when it comes to hauling freight on rails, nobody does it better than the North Americans.

Michigan State's Andreas Hoffrichter gets it.

First we issue a bulletin order.  There is a Center for Railway Research and Education at Michigan State.  With Wisconsin teams eliminated, display green and white signals for the Final Four!

On to the railroad reading.
Often there is the perception that the U.S. lags behind other countries when it comes to rail, but in many cases that is not true. The country has, arguably, the best freight rail system in the world, which is owned, operated and financed by private companies. Passenger service in specific corridors is comparable with the European counterparts: for example, in the Northeast. On long-distance routes and in less densely populated areas, however, there are often empty seats on Amtrak trains.
The contrast with Passenger Rail operations in other countries is further complicated by there often being one operator of intercity and regional service, e.g. Germany's Deutsche Bahn, while in the States Amtrak run the intercity and overnight services and a variety of local authorities run the commuter trains, which, themselves, might sometimes be the best in the world at what they do.

It's possible to mix freight and passenger trains on the same track, but you can't run the passenger trains as fast as you could on dedicated tracks.
Running passenger and freight trains on the same lines is possible but poses many challenges, as the characteristics of the two train types are very different; freight trains tend to be long, heavy and comparatively slow, while passenger trains are short, fast and comparatively light. If there are not too many trains on a line, this mixed traffic can be managed, but if there are a lot of trains, then separate infrastructure is the way forward.
In the United States, the separate infrastructure was once hidden in plain sight. Consider the four track main lines on The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central. Away from the cities, two of the tracks were reserved for the passenger trains, and the platform configurations at a few stations still offer hints as to how that worked.  Or look closely at the Union Pacific map.  Why are there two lines between the Chicago area and Milwaukee?  Once upon a time, the two tracks closest to the lake were primarily for passenger service, the two tracks inland, which bypassed downtown Chicago, were for freight.

Many of these tracks are now gone, and the legal relationship between Amtrak and the freight railroads is not good.  If the freight trains have to be held in order for the passenger trains to stay on schedule, do the railroads not have a case that a regulatory taking is in effect?  Who, then, has the responsibility for providing the additional tracks?  Mr Hoffrichter sees a role for public spending, infrastructure, if you will.  "Dramatically expanding rail use, particularly passenger service, will require government investment in more frequent service on existing lines, starting service to areas that don’t have access to rail currently, reducing journey times and building out a larger passenger rail network."  Whether Our Political Masters will go along remains to be seen.

No comments: