Are American Freight Railroads Worse Than Amtrak?

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MARC Rider

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I was surfing through the internet looking to learn more about "precision scheduled railroading," (PSR) when I found this:

Class One Railroads: How Did Things Get So Bad? (forbes.com)

From the article, it sounds like the freight railroads have more problems than PSR. In fact, it seems like freight shippers regard the class Is about the same way long-distance Amtrak riders regard Amtrak. It seems that in the freight business if a car is ordered and it's delivered with 8 hours of the ETA, it's considered "on time." This might put some of our complaining about Amtrak on-time performance in a bit of context. The railroads also like to fine shippers for not releasing their cars in a timely manner. Even the most drill-sergeant like Amtrak OBS don't fine customers who don't follow all their rules. :) The end result is that the freight railroads seem to be losing market share to the truckers. This may get worse when truck platooning becomes more viable. From the point of view of climate change and control of emissions, this has some disturbing implications, as rail is inherently more efficient in terms of fuel consumption and emissions than trucking. Maybe the shippers need to work with environmental activists to shake some sense into the Class Is. On the other hand, if things get so bad that the Class Is collapse into bankruptcy, perhaps there's a reasonable chance of nationalizing the nation's railroad infrastructure and reorganizing the rail industry in a more rational way -- designed to move freight and passengers efficiently, not play Wall Street games to enrich a few in top management.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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The only thing we sell is service.
Common phase in the trucking business.

My employer is charging detention fee if our trucks sit more than two hours, and yet fails to provide the deliver number so the driver can check in at the gate before there appointment. One of our plants got overwhelmed and was sending out loads 24 hours after they were scheduled.

All form of transportation have issues.

Will the railroad fail? Not today.
The customer service need some focus, but that is communication, and the railroads are not the only provider that need to do it.
 
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neroden

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The Surface Transportation Board has noticed and is planning to crack down. Former BNSF CEO Matt Rose warned the Class Is of this in 2019 but they didn't listen (well, except BNSF).

 

John Bredin

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There's an op-ed in today's Tribune (linky) by the president of the AAR whining about the Biden Administration crackdown on anti-competitiveness by the freight railroads, which would "allow companies dissatisfied with the prices they pay to ship products over rail lines to petition the government to intervene on their behalf to force a railroad to use its infrastructure to hand business to its competitor."

That sounds like a horrible "centralized, command economy approach" if you maintain, as the fox outside the henhouse AAR does, that the "push for re-regulation is not because of any market failure or reliable data indicators" but merely "because some shipping companies don’t like the price they pay to railroads for transportation costs." :rolleyes: Conversely, if you take the sheer weight of complaints by shippers seriously, it sounds like something worth trying. I have a suspicion from the depths of the whining in this op-ed that this regulation -- or more precisely the credible threat of enforcing it -- will be effective to straighten out freight service.
 
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Just-Thinking-51

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Simple give track access to two different railroads over the whole system. BNSF and Union Pacific, CSXT and Norfolk Southern. Boom ever customer can get rates and choose the railroad on the cost/service levels provided. No government involvement, markets and service levels gets the business.
 

west point

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Cannot remember the exact figure but hasn't the STB said something about 160 % of costs as actual ceiling of freight tariffs ? Of course Class 1s will try to load up costs that would take a lot of accounting unless a standard amount is suggested by STB..
 
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