If any federal action helped to kill passenger trains, it was a 1947 rule passed by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) regulating high-speed trains. The ruling, which went into effect in 1950, specified that trains could not go faster than 79 mph unless railroads installed expensive signaling and other improvements.And so all this Progressive SWPL vision that is fixin' to (further) bankrupt California with a $100B high speed train to nowhere wouldn't be needed if the government hadn't regulated passenger rail to death. For teh Childrenz™, of course.
During the 1930s, several railroads had responded to the decline in passenger traffic by speeding up their trains. The Burlington, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, Santa Fe, and Union Pacific were among the roads that routinely ran passenger trains between 100 and 120 mph in order to get average speeds of 60 (over the entire journey) to 80 (between some cities) mph. This was a huge improvement over the 30 to 40 mph average speeds of most trains at that time. The result on routes with such fast trains was almost always a huge increase in passenger traffic.
The ICC rule put the brakes on these trains. The railroads estimated it would cost them $80 million (more than $800 million in today’s dollars) to install the signals, which wouldn’t be worth it for the passengers that made up a limited part of the railroads’ business. Rail officials pointed out that, while there had been accidents involving fast streamliners, most would not have been prevented by better signals. (For example, two people were killed when a Burlington Zephyr collided with a tractor that had fallen off a freight train on a parallel track just seconds before the Zephyr passed by.)
As a paper by historian Mark Reutter notes, when railroads complained about the ruling, an ICC commissioner responded, “When you get to the final analysis here, it is a question of whether you [the railroads] should determine how these funds should be used or whether the government should. . . . And hasn’t Congress given the commission that responsibility?” [emphasis by Borepatch]
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Guess what killed passenger rail?
Despite what your liberal friends say, it wasn't the Interstate Highways. Passenger rail travel was declining for a decade before the Interstates were built. No, the real reason the inter-city rail withered and died in the United States was government regulation: