What's going on on the rails? In part, it's a substitution induced by rising wages and fuel prices confronting the trucking companies. The railroads are doing the wholesale part of the truck delivery.
But recruiting workers to fill those openings may not be easy. Though average pay for rail workers is about $62,000 plus benefits, the jobs can be trying.
"It can be a physically demanding job," [Norfolk Southern publicist Rudy] Husband said. "We move the freight 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year - through hot days, rainy days, snowy days. So people are going to be outside working in the elements, and there are times that people are going to be working at night, weekends and holidays."
Other harsh working conditions make the job unappealing for potential hires, said [spokesman Frank] Wilner of the United Transportation Union. Many crews are forced to work without days off and with infrequent rest periods, he said.
A recent study found that if one quarter of what is now shipped by trucks were moved by rail, commuters would spend about 33 fewer hours sitting in traffic each year by 2025. That is a savings of 174 gallons of gas per commuter each year, said Wendell Cox, a demographic and transportation consultant and author of the study, which was funded by a grant from North America's Freight Railroads.The second-order effects on reduced traffic congestion are noteworthy.