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To re-industrialize the freight train.

The railroads that bind America are vast. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were seemingly ubiquitous. Commercial and passenger trains rolled on from coast to coast.
The freight train is an excellent source of resource shipping; being able to carry 100+ cars of goods in one trip. Today, semi-trucks and airplanes, both pollutant and costly, greatly transcend in use as opposed to the freight train. I believe we should add much more to the rail network and use the freight train as a primary source of distribution.

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    May 14 2014: If you stand near the train tracks near Spokane or Omaha you will be amazed how much cargo is moved by train. The containers that are routinely shipped all over the US from ports in Charleston (CSX), Long Beach (UP) or a dozen others with goods from around the world is stunning. Local delivery is, by definition...local. Thus vans and trucks must meet this need.

    "For the first 51 weeks of 2013, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 14,376,905 carloads, down 0.7 percent from the same point last year, and 12,659,296 intermodal units, up 4.5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 51 weeks of 2013 was 27,036,201 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.7 percent from last year. " From the Association of American Railroads Weekly Rail Traffic report for 2013.

    27M carloads!!!! That's a lot of goods and materials and it is not just high tonnage items like coal. Nearly every item sold in a store today originated somewhere else and was shipped to its sales point. The network of ships, trains, trucks and planes is how the US moves ALL of our commerce and this network is the lifeblood of our national wealth. It is not perfect, but it seems to me it is working pretty good.

    Passenger rail...different story.
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    May 23 2014: Let's hope we can modernize better than France. ;-) Oops!
  • May 15 2014: OK, but the first thing we have to do is get those accident prone humans away from the controls. There have been enough train wrecks while the engineer was asleep, talking on the phone or texting.
    By the way the same goes for every other form of transportation.
    • May 25 2014: Agree, seems like moving freight is ripe for autonomous operation.
      • May 25 2014: Go, Stop, Speed. Not a lot of brain power going on there. A Commodore 64 could probably handle it.
  • May 12 2014: Bulk transport is still done by trains. However, how is a train supposed to deliver my latest EBay gizmo to my door? If I ran a small convienience store I might buy 50 cases of beer per week, but is that enough to build a train route to my door? I worked for Sysco Foods - top 50 company - and they had fleets of trucks, experienced routers and top-line software for the distribution of food to restraunts. How you gonna supply them?

    People want to travel the fastest way possible. Amtrack is largely a failure except for the highly-populated East Coast. Even public transportation fails: I take a bus for over 3 hours each day when a car would be 1-1/2 hours because its cheaper.
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      May 12 2014: maybe there's someone you're supposed to meet on the bus, maybe it's not a question of being cheaper, but your subconscious wants you on the bus because something is supposed to happen there.
      • May 12 2014: Good one. My subconscious must be trying to kill me as I get exposed to every germ the great city of Houston can manufacture. Or its telling me that I will starve to death because I spent all of my money on gas and a car payment instead.

        I'll go with the first one. It better fits my mood today.
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          May 12 2014: i suppose it's possible, Martin, I know Freud thought we all had a death wish as well as a life wish. But I hope it's something more positive. Where are you taking this transportation, to a job? Maybe your subconscious is telling you to look for a job closer to home (or move closer to your job), even if you had a car, a one-and-a-half-hour commute would be pretty long?
  • May 23 2014: I've read everyone's comments and was quite pleased with the responses. Both sides of this debate have allowed me to think more in depth of my idea. Thank you for the insights everyone.
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    May 19 2014: Just as Detroit killed the US passenger train the trucking business has killed the freight train.
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    R H

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    May 14 2014: Already being done. That's why what's his name.... Berkshire Hathaway.... rich guy.... not Trump.... Warren Buffet bought a major railroad a couple of years ago. It's public knowledge that the DOT is planning 5 major megalopolis's for the future in the country: NE, SE, CENTRAL, NW, SW, which will be connected by rail and water with trucking filling in between. My home state is half-way through building the largest inland port in the nation, with rail and water as the transcontinental service and trucking acting as the spider's legs. Your instincts are quite correct.
  • May 12 2014: While your premise is noble it requires the railroad to completely rethink it's role in the cities it operates. Train operators have this "we were here first" mentality that excludes working with city planners to move their cross town rail lines outside metropolitan limits. And in turn create distribution hubs that would include more rail. Train operators don't want to compete for less than tonnage loads or accommodate new industrial centers that could include their business. Train operators also only have one locomotive and that's the Big Bertha. You don't need Big Bertha to move two to five rail cars which makes moving freight from the rail yard to a distribution center inefficient. It would help as well if train operators could introduce new models. Rail cars made of carbon fiber or outfitted with not just four wheels but 10 wheels made of composite plastic, would be a better fit than the large bulky all metal units which haven't changed in design in 75 years. Rail operators also need to differentiate between loads and types of loads and coordinate multiple locomotives and rail-car models as an accommodation. Train operators also need to start coordinating and cooperating with city planners to get old rail lines out of metro areas and re-purpose those lines as linear parks. Getting their services included in all industrial parks under development and create a business development unit within their organization to assist a city or state planner that the train operator is on board. There is a reason why the Railroad is relegated to just tonnage loads.