Was the decline of rail travel in the 50s inevitable?

Nov 2014
287
ph
#1
Was the decline of rail travel in the 50s inevitable? What if the US government was willing to relax safety regulations with regards to higher speed rail? Or instead of building the interstate, the government decides to subsidize passenger rail infrastructure and its maintenance cost, with the rail companies limited to running the trains. Rail may not have been competitive with airplanes over very long distances, but say from Atlanta to Nashville, or from Kansas City to Chicago or Indianapolis, or Portland to Seattle, even normal higher speed rail would have been competitive with cars or buses.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#3
Was the decline of rail travel in the 50s inevitable? What if the US government was willing to relax safety regulations with regards to higher speed rail? Or instead of building the interstate, the government decides to subsidize passenger rail infrastructure and its maintenance cost, with the rail companies limited to running the trains. Rail may not have been competitive with airplanes over very long distances, but say from Atlanta to Nashville, or from Kansas City to Chicago or Indianapolis, or Portland to Seattle, even normal higher speed rail would have been competitive with cars or buses.

When taking a train, you will still need some sort of transportation to get from the train station to your final destination. With a car, you can drive directly to your final destination, and not have to find an intermediate transportation method.

And busses were also a factor too. You could find a bus stop nearer your home than train station. High speed trains still require you maintain rails.for travel, while the roads would still be required anyways. You always will need roads to deliver items to individual homes and stores. Unless he population density is great enough, like on the east or west coast, trains will always be at disadvantage. Along the east coast, from New York to Washington, trains still are popular choice, precisely because the population density justifies them.
 
Likes: Talbot Vilna
Jan 2010
4,357
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#4
Was the decline of rail travel in the 50s inevitable? What if the US government was willing to relax safety regulations with regards to higher speed rail? Or instead of building the interstate, the government decides to subsidize passenger rail infrastructure and its maintenance cost, with the rail companies limited to running the trains. Rail may not have been competitive with airplanes over very long distances, but say from Atlanta to Nashville, or from Kansas City to Chicago or Indianapolis, or Portland to Seattle, even normal higher speed rail would have been competitive with cars or buses.
So you’d be willing to take a chance that disastrous rail crashes with death and injury would occur as a tradeoff for increased passenger rail. Safety regulation should be stricter for faster trains as the risk of accident and injury are higher.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
2,869
Las Vegas, NV USA
#5
In the US it certainly was inevitable.It's hard to compete with traveling door to door anywhere without changing vehicles. However the government built the roads which were supported by fuel taxes. Railroads were on their own. Other countries, particularly France, made public investments in both rail and road travel as did Japan somewhat later. I think this is why their passenger rail networks survived and developed. Both countries have rail service that can compete favorably with domestic air travel.
 
Last edited:

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#6
In the US it certainly was inevitable.It's hard to compete with traveling door to door anywhere without changing vehicles. However the government built the roads which were supported by fuel taxes. Railroads were on their own. Other countries, particularly France, made public investments in both rail and road travel as did Japan somewhat later. I think this is why their passenger rail networks survived and developed. Both countries have rail service that can compete favorably with domestic air travel.
Both are much smaller countries, more densely populated countries. Also, the US does subsidise Amtrack, around $2 billion dollars a year, which is not chicken feed, especially consider the small number of passengers it carries. Increasing the subsidies is unlikely to increase the ridership significantly.

And Japan's railroad is largely private and does not receive a lot of government subsidies.
 
Jun 2013
439
Connecticut
#7
I think airplanes only contributed to the decline of the railroads when jet propulsion came into play in the 1960s. It became cheaper and time was the factor.

Passenger rail began to decline after 1920. After WW II the railroads attempted to lure passengers with new equipment. But it didn't matter. As mentioned the auto and the highway were contributor to passenger rail decline. The real killer was the growth of the trucking transportation industry on the new highways.This took away freight from the railroads. Without the freight subsidy, passenger service went into a free fall.
 

royal744

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
9,953
San Antonio, Tx
#8
I think airplanes only contributed to the decline of the railroads when jet propulsion came into play in the 1960s. It became cheaper and time was the factor.

Passenger rail began to decline after 1920. After WW II the railroads attempted to lure passengers with new equipment. But it didn't matter. As mentioned the auto and the highway were contributor to passenger rail decline. The real killer was the growth of the trucking transportation industry on the new highways.This took away freight from the railroads. Without the freight subsidy, passenger service went into a free fall.
I’m not 100% sure about this, but isn’t it in fact much cheaper to transport goods by rail as compared to transporting the same goods by truck?
 
Jun 2013
439
Connecticut
#9
I’m not 100% sure about this, but isn’t it in fact much cheaper to transport goods by rail as compared to transporting the same goods by truck?
You're abolutely right. Rail transportation is much cheaper than truck. But here's a little story of what happened to the rail industry locally.

In the 1950s construction began on the interstate highway system. The railroad paralled the highway. All supplies for construction (steel, gravel, stone, cement, etc.) came by railroad to the work site. The railroad (The New Haven Railroad) made so much money. They purchased new passenger cars to upgrade service into NYC, into Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In 1958 the highway opened. Within a year the civil engineers realized they screwed up. The trucking industry grew exponentially. Trucks en masse switched from blacktop highways to the interstate. The interstate wasn't big enough. Within ten years (1968), the New haven Railroad disappeared in history.

This scenario happened all over the country.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#10
I’m not 100% sure about this, but isn’t it in fact much cheaper to transport goods by rail as compared to transporting the same goods by truck?
Yes, for long distance shipping by rail is cheaper than truck, but not for short distances.

Note, for most cases you will eventually have to switch from rail to truck to reach the final destination point.

Also, shipping by truck is more flexible. You can schedule a special individual truck shipment than you can schedule a special train shipment for just one piece of equipment and the Truck will be as fast or faster. High speed trains are not usually used for freight, and the network of roads allows you to travel more direct in most cases than the rails will allow you. Note, you will always need a network of roads whether you have trains or not. Since most people, stores and factories are not located along rail linez, you will need a road to get the goods to their final destination.
 
Last edited: