How Environmentalists & Leftists Ruin US Railroads

Nikitas3.com is a huge fan of American railroads. And by “railroads” I am referring to our freight railroads which comprise the biggest and most efficient railroad system anywhere in the world. Anyone who knows about railroads knows that this is true although the Fake News media never report it.

These freight railroads – the Big Four are Union Pacific and BNSF west of the Mississippi, and CSX and Norfolk Southern in the East – haul 1.9 TRILLION ton-miles of freight every year over 140,000 miles of track. They run 23,000 locomotives and 1.5 million rail cars. They dwarf any other system in the world in size, capacity and efficiency.

These railroads are the backbone of the American economy hauling steel, automobiles, farm products, chemicals, coal, oil, natural gas, lumber products, grain, food products, consumer goods and every other imaginable thing across our vast and fruited land.

And these Big Four private-sector corporations, along with hundreds of local and regional carriers, earn a profit on $65 billion annually in revenues. These railroads run freight trains on passenger-train schedules. Today’s mainline tracks are composed of quarter-mile ribbons of seamless steel rail, welded at each end, on which mile-long 10,000-ton trains can move at up to 60 miles per hour.

This system is so efficient that it moves one ton of freight more than 400 miles on a single gallon of fuel (while a Toyota Prius brags about 53 miles per gallon).

With freight volumes expected to double by 2045 this crucial system will invest more than $100 billion of its own private capital for infrastructure by then, yet few Americans know anything about it.

Thus you would think that we should all be happy with this magnificent system. But no, leftists and environmentalists have been seeking to ruin it. And they came pretty close once before.

After the American Civil War ended in 1865 the railroad industry boomed across America. The first transcontinental line was completed in 1869 and in ensuing decades railroads branched out all over America, particularly in the populated East. But the system was chaotic and non-standardized and the government imposed needed rules.

The years 1900 to 1950 were the Golden Age of American railroads. The railroads were nationalized during World War I from 1917 to 1920 under an emergency decree. By the 1960s, however, as trucks were drawing away large amounts traffic on new interstate highways the government had imposed more and more control.

Government was dictating rail freight shipping rates; deciding whether unprofitable tracks could or could not be abandoned, often with years-long delays; siding with bloated labor unions against the railroad companies; and forcing the freight railroads to maintain their money-losing passenger lines in the age of highways, cars, buses and then airplanes.

By the early 1970s the mighty Southern Pacific, which is called ‘the railroad that built California’, was deteriorating significantly. Mighty Eastern roads like the behemoths New York Central and Pennsylvania had merged and collapsed into dust.

As a result many politicians and even railroad executives predicted that nationalization was imminent. Fortunately Congress moved in the opposite direction and passed the Staggers Act in 1980 which DEregulated these railroads. And since then, the industry has been on a steady upward trajectory, creating the most modern and efficient system in the world.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the Staggers Act:

Studies of the rail industry showed dramatic benefits for both railroads and their users from the alteration to the regulatory system. According to studies by the Department of Transportation’s Freight Management and Operations, railroad industry costs and prices were halved over a ten-year period, the railroads reversed their historic loss of traffic (as measured by ton-miles) to the trucking industry, and railroad industry profits began to recover, after decades of low profits and widespread railroad insolvencies. In 2007 the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress, “The railroad industry is increasingly healthy and rail rates have generally declined since 1985, despite recent rate increases…. There is widespread consensus that the freight rail industry has benefited from the Staggers Rail Act.”

The Association of American Railroads, the principal railroad industry trade association, stated that the Staggers Act has led to a 51 percent reduction in average shipping rates, and $480 billion has been reinvested by the industry into their rail systems.

Notice that shipping rates dropped significantly. This comes after big-government socialists have told us for decades that only government control can stop private corporations from ripping off the public. This is the opposite of the truth. It is government control that pushes up costs and shipping rates.

Here is just one example: Government-funded and union-controlled Amtrak, which carries only 4% of the passenger load that US airlines carry every day, runs primarily on the tracks of the Big Four freight railroads. Amtrak ‘gets in the way’ of the freight traffic. This causes delays in freight shipments and increases costs for the railroads as more crews are needed for each trip. This causes shipping costs, and the costs of good moved by rail, to go up. This is another “subsidy” of Amtrak by American consumers after Amtrak’s $1.5 billion direct annual taxpayer subsidy.

The leftists are destroying our success freight railroads in three other crucial ways:

*Despite the great efficiency of freight railroads environmentalists continue to force railroads and locomotive makers to retrofit and manufacture more and more clean-burning diesel engines.

This is a mistake. This system and these locomotives are already highly efficient and railroads should be left alone to do their jobs.

The constant nagging by “greenies” to get ‘cleaner’ engines is pushing up locomotive costs but even worse it is reducing fuel efficiency, like pollution control devices on cars do. And if locomotives are burning more fuel then that is bad for the environment, for the economy and for the railroads themselves.

Then the ‘greenies’ claim that they are going to come up with some dazzling new technology like natural-gas engines or fuel cells. They ignore the fact that expensive fuel cells will never work in everyday applications, and that natural gas would require a hugely expensive nationwide rebuilding of the railroad fueling infrastructure.

In other words these clueless environmentalists should leave the railroads alone and let them operate without endless interference over every last molecule of pollution.

*Genset locomotives: For many years ‘greenies’ advocated the manufacture and sale of ‘genset’ (jen-set) locomotives that replaced a single big diesel engine with three smaller engines.

This was supposed to reduce air pollution by only calling on the engines as their power was needed. The genset was being touted as the future of locomotives but they have largely disappeared from use since they had many operational, efficiency and reliability problems, proving to be just another hair-brained idea from the ‘greenies’.

*Positive Train Control (PTC) is the biggest boondoggle of all. PTC is a perfect example of how socialism seeks to inject itself into American business even when liberals have no idea what they are doing (which is always).

PTC is a computerized GPS satellite tracking system being mandated for installation on all passenger trains and freight trains that is supposed to prevent two trains from colliding. PTC must constantly monitor the location, speed and direction of trains and automatically slow or stop trains that are in imminent danger of crashing.

PTC was mandated by the federal government after a major crash in Chatsworth, California in 2008 in which a commuter passenger train ran head-on into a freight train of the Union Pacific railroad at a combined speed of 85 miles per hour; 24 passengers died along with the engineer.

Yet there is no proof that PTC will reduce or eliminate train accidents; it may actually increase them. The system has never been tested on a nationwide scale. Not even close. It may never work.

PTC was supposed to be fully installed by the freight railroads by January 1, 2016 but they did not meet the target because PTC is very expensive and complex, requiring, among other things, 20,000 trackside towers nationally.

In another serious wreck that renewed calls for PTC the engineer of an Amtrak train that crashed just north of Philadelphia on May 12, 2015 was a unionized employee, a union activist and rail safety activist (the engineer survived). Eight passengers died and more calls for PTC went out.

Notice that both incidents (Philadelphia and Chatsworth) involved publicly-funded passenger trains and unionized engineers, not private-sector freight railroads. But the media have since done everything they can to exonerate or ignore any culpability by both of these engineers (both happened to be/have been homosexuals) and to demand PTC even though the California engineer missed a red signal – certainly from texting just before the crash – while the Amtrak train was going 106 MPH on a 50 MPH curve. These were both obvious cases of gross worker negligence.

So why didn’t the government-funded commuter system in California have PTC already? Why didn’t government-funded Amtrak already have PTC on that stretch of track, its busiest line in America? After all, that track is only 237 miles long from Washington to New York and liberals have been demanding PTC for decades.

Answer: Because government systems like Amtrak have wasted tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on bloated salaries, benefits and pensions, and on long-distance, money-losing trains that carry few passengers. Meanwhile Amtrak has four times the employee accident rate of the private freight railroads. We would expect it to be the other way around from the media spin about the wonders of government.

Here is a follow-up on the Philadelphia crash from The Daily News:

Amtrak will pay $265 million for the May 2015 derailment that killed eight passengers just outside of Philadelphia.

A judge ordered the train company to pay up Thursday as part of a settlement program, WTFX reported.
The funds will be divided amongst the more than 125 pending cases stemming from the wreck, including the eight wrongful death claims. More than 200 people were injured, many seriously, on board Northeast Regional No. 188.

The settlement sum reflects a newly raised cap on damages for Amtrak accidents. Previously, there was a $200 million per-accident limit — a figure set by Congress in 1997. Just after the May 2015 derailment, lawmakers increased it to $295 (million) limit.

This is one case where PTC might have prevented the accident but did not since Amtrak never bothered to install it.

And now taxpayers will dole out the $265 million, not the gay, unionized engineer Brandon Bostian; not Bostian’s union; and not Amtrak’s management or its union for failing to install PTC or for allowing an incompetent like Bostian to run the train.

In short this whole racket is rigged against common sense and the taxpayer and in favor of the left.

PTC is estimated to have a price tag of up to $22 billion for installation on the private-sector US freight railroads alone. In an industry with $65 billion a year in total revenues this is hugely expensive. But to socialists the cost does not matter since they are not paying for it. Meanwhile passenger trains, which all get government subsidies, will have their PTC systems funded by the taxpayer.

Yet a 2009 crash on the Washington, DC subway killed 9 people. In that wreck a PTC-type signal failed on a small, urban subway system. So if PTC failed on a small system, and is installed all across America we have no guarantee that it is going to produce the types of safety improvements that proponents claim. In fact it may not work at all, or will work poorly and we may discover that this huge amount of money has been wasted.

PTC is very complex and will surely have some failures, perhaps even big failures. Imagine a PTC failure involving dangerous chemicals moving in rail cars, or a string of exploding tanker cars carrying ethanol fuel. This is entirely possible since there has never been a nationwide system like PTC. Meanwhile another one of the many downsides of PTC is that it may make railroad engineers more complacent since the computers are supposed to be taking care of safety. This could lead to more accidents, not fewer.

The private freight-railroad industry is devoting huge amounts of labor, time and money to PTC that might better be spent elsewhere. The big Eastern railroad CSX already has spent more than $2 billion while the Western giant Union Pacific has spent more than $3 billion.

Nikitas3.com believes, however, that PTC will end up harming overall railroad safety by draining valuable capital away from routine safety measures like the maintenance of locomotives, freight cars and signal systems; track maintenance and inspection; worker training; worker screening; worker drug testing; and other everyday safety measures that are much more cost-effective per dollar invested than PTC.

Nikitas3.com also believes that the real end goal of the big-government PTC advocates is not necessarily safety anyway but to suck more and more capital out of the private sector, and weaken it.

Here is the Nikitas3.com proposal: Scrap the PTC mandate and allow the railroad companies to enforce safety under reasonable and cost-effective regulations. This should include the right of the railroads to immediately fire employees who are acting in an unsafe manner, which is something that the unions fight against. So perhaps an important new step toward better rail safety would be to restrict the unions and their policies that reflexively defend workers, including bad ones.

Now look at how liberal Canada deals with rail safety. In a July 6, 2013 wreck a runaway crude oil train of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railroad, with 5 locomotives and 72 loaded cars rolled down a 7-mile-long hill and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying the town center in the lakeside resort of Lac Megantic, Quebec.

After a yearlong inquiry the accident was determined to have been caused by a unionized Canadian engineer who parked his train overnight on a very slight grade leading into the town without properly securing it with individual hand brakes on the cars, allowing the train to roll away and crash into the town and explode. PTC would have done nothing to prevent this tragedy.

The railroad’s American owner Ed Burkhardt speculated immediately after the crash that the train must not have been secured properly since a secured train cannot physically roll away. Yet Burkhardt was savaged in the media and treated like a scoundrel even though he has been proven correct.

On the other hand a major Canadian news website printed slobbering praise about the character of the unionized engineer Thomas Harding just 5 days after the accident without knowing anything at all about Harding or about what really happened. Many Canadians followed suit by directing their anger at Burkhardt, and were enraged that Harding was even blamed. This came after a major labor union campaign on Harding’s behalf, which was echoed in the Canadian media.

Meanwhile the railroad itself and the companies that provided the oil are being sued, but Harding’s union is not. Why not? Shouldn’t the unions bear responsibility for the failures of their members?

Nikitas3.com has argued for many years that labor unions are operating on a one-way street, that unions take no risks – like being held accountable for the actions of their members – but reap all of the rewards in accumulating vast amounts of wealth in union dues. Nikitas3.com believes that unions must be forced under law to assume the risks for their members in exchange for their reward (financial gain from those members).

At the same time, Canadian laws are rigged against private companies and their owners and managers in favor of the workers. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia.org:

Since becoming law on March 31, 2004, Section 217.1 in the Criminal Code of Canada places a duty of care on those who manage others, specifically: “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”

Notice that the Criminal Code puts the onus on those who manage others but not on the worker himself. This is classic anti-capitalism from the socialist point of view, i.e, the owners, bosses, managers and the company itself are responsible for all accidents and problems, never the worker. Meanwhile labor unions and Democrats fight relentlessly for the hiring of or advancement of incompetent or unqualified workers, like under affirmative action or under union work rules.

Example: One of the most famous train wrecks in US history was the destruction of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited at Alabama’s Bayou Canot near Mobile in 1993. It was caused by an incompetent river barge pilot, a black named Willie Odom, who got lost in the fog at night and whose barge hit a railroad bridge, knocking it out of line. 47 Amtrak passengers died when the train crossed the bridge at 70 miles per hour and slammed into the swamp. Was Odom an affirmative action pilot? Well, look at this New York Times report from 1994:

Investigators said the pilot, Willie Odom, could not read his radar, had left his chart of the river at home and did not have a compass. … They said he had received his piloting license only months before, after failing the exam seven times.

Seven times… Amazing. Don’t you think that they would give him three attempts and then tell him to find another line of work? That he would be seen as endangering others as a barely marginal if not outright unqualified barge pilot? Odom “could not read his radar, had left his chart of the river at home and did not have a compass…” Isn’t this a sign of something terribly wrong?

Of course, but not under affirmative action under which certain incompetent people get waved through without question, or are given endless advantage on account of their race, or in the name of “diversity”. On the other hand simple common sense – no license for Odom – would have prevented the Sunset Limited tragedy. No PTC was needed.

Many incompetent, unqualified or troubled people are in positions of public safety, like barge pilots or train engineers that should not be there like the Chatsworth engineer and his texting. The gay partner of the Chatsworth engineer had committed suicide shortly before the accident. Was the engineer suicidal? Did he have psychological problems that should have prevented him from being in a position of public safety? What did his union bosses know about him that we do not? Was the gay-activist Amtrak engineer in the Philadelphia crash an unqualified “diversity hire”?

How many of the Amtrak wrecks every year – and they happen often – are caused by the incompetence of the federal unionized employees that run Amtrak? Who are protected by their union? This story is never pursued by the Fake News leftist media in order to protect Amtrak.

Meanwhile Transportation Safety Board of Canada chairman Wendy Tadros said at the time of the Quebec accident that the agency would be speaking to anyone who had anything to do with the train and the company. Then Tadros amazingly was quoted as saying, ”No accident is ever caused by one thing. It is always a series of things and always involves the organization and the way that they operate. It never comes down to one individual.”

This is flat-out false. This is the chairman of the TSBC. This female should have been fired immediately for making such a statement because it is biased. As an investigator she is supposed to be impartial.

“…always involves the organization and the way that they operate”? Who says? This is preposterous. It sure can come down to “one individual”. What if the engineer was drunk or on drugs? What if the engineer had a vendetta against the town or the railroad? What if the engineer was having an argument with his girlfriend over his cell phone and neglected to set the hand brakes?

Remember that a government agent like Tadros in a liberal nation like Canada may seek to bias the case and to take the focus off of the unionized locomotive engineer and to put it on the private railroad company.

This is a standard practice of socialists worldwide in government, in the media, in labor unions, in the universities etc. – always blame “the company” or “the corporation” or “business” or “the manager” but never blame a worker, particularly a unionized worker.

A major derailment in June 2013 on the CSX freight railroad in upstate New York at Fonda was pure negligence by a unionized engineer who ran a red signal. Nobody was killed, but CSX was blamed in the court of public opinion for that and every accident; the media report scrupulously on CSX’s every transgression, violation and accident, no matter how minor like an oil car derailing in a rail yard at low speed which was a major media story shortly after the Fonda derailment.

In 1989 the infamous wreck of a freight train coming down Cajon Pass on the Southern Pacific at San Bernardino, California (Los Angeles) was caused by a railroad worker improperly listing the weight of the train too low on a manifest, and thus the engineer did not know that he did not have enough braking power for the hill. But the railroad will always be blamed for the “Southern Pacific tragedy” while PTC would have done nothing to prevent that wreck.

In the high-speed crash of an Amtrak train into three slow-moving Conrail freight locomotives at Chase, Maryland on January 4, 1987 in which 16 people on the Amtrak train were killed, the unionized engineer of the Conrail engines missed a red signal to stop before moving from a side track onto the main line. He and the other member of the Conrail crew in the locomotive cab with him were smoking marijuana at the time of the crash. The missed signal was directly attributed to the marijuana smoking.

The engineer also had a history of drunk driving convictions which alone should have been grounds for firing, or not hiring, long before the accident.

But not when labor unions are involved, defending their members at every turn and doing everything in their power to restrict employer access to job applicants’ past histories. Obama even sought to make the criminal past of job applicants harder to access.

Thus no special and expensive PTC safety system was needed to prevent the Maryland crash. In fact more stringent hiring/firing rules would have prevented it, along with regular drug testing, which is generally opposed by leftists. Some marijuana advocates are now even beginning to ask that drug tests not “discriminate” against marijuana users since it is legal in six states.

Our US freight railroads today are statistically safer than many other industries. Unfortunately these spectacular train accidents create great media attention, although there are statistically very few of them for the amount of freight hauled. But then when accidents are caused by a negligent worker it is ignored by the media in order to criticize the railroad companies and to call for PTC.

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