3 min read

How Did Americans, of All People, Fuck Up Running Railroads?

Opinion | Mismanagement and ‘Monster Trains’ Have Wrecked American Rail
Decades of cost cutting takes a toll.

I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" this article so much as I found it fascinating and infuriating in equal measure. I've known bits and pieces of how our freight railroads came to their current dire straits, but this article sums it up nicely.

What irks me a bit, though, is the milquetoast recommendation for what is, to me, the obvious solution: nationalize the railroads.

The author specifically alludes to this in noting that the Feds created and mostly owned Conrail, which figured out how to make freight rail in the American northeast (with its oldest infrastructure and geographical constraints) profitable again in the 80's after some decades of loss. So, of course, the minute it WAS making money again, it was... re-privatized? And now those goons have fucked it all up again by taking precisely the wrong lessons away from how Conrail pulled off the magic trick in the first place? Fucking hell, we can't learn a lesson around here, can we?

Why not go loud on the points that:

  1. This shit is REALLY important, like, Too Important to Leave to the Market Impulse That Has Ruined Everything Else in America Already. If these railways don't work right, we all starve and die. Period.
  2. The government has proven (and Lord knows other countries have beyond proven it but asking an American to accept an answer originated elsewhere is liking asking a baby to do calculus) that it is the best agency to operate these railways at a national (which is the correct) level and do it well.
  3. The entire history of privatized railway in this country since railways were invented is a legacy of failure that would make the CIA blush. They've never survived without abusive monopoly powers and/or massive government subsidy and intervention. Why not skip that expensive, profit-skimming middleman and just let the government do it right?

The details given in the article noting that private ownership has gone all-in on being downright abusive to their labor force in order to maximize short-term shareholder profits just proves the point: they will burn this all down rather than lower any given year's obscene margins one iota. And you literally can NOT run a railway with a horizon that stops with the fiscal year.

Reagan's crimes were legion, but I really do hope he's getting an extra heated skewer in the dickhole in hell specifically for deciding that "the government cannot do anything" should be the GOP's primary belief and governance strategy and getting that awful, incorrect idea to stick. It's no coincidence that our national infrastructure, including the railways, went from being the global gold standard at the start of his presidency to absolute dogshit now. It takes a long time to ruin an entire rich country's worth of transport networks, but it's been 40 years and that goal is accomplished now. The private market has ruined our railways, our airports, our public transport in cities (don't get me started on the auto industry's role in the death of the American downtown via the planned murder of the streetcar industry)... it can be fixed, but it would take the radical step of empowering our own government to do so, and the fuckers that run said government themselves wish it dead so I guess we can all go fuck ourselves instead, as usual.