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The survey elicited 157 responses, each of which identified one, two or more milestones. Not surprisingly, the topic mentioned the most — as in 81 times — was the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 (although some referred to the event as “rail industry de-regulation”).
There’s no denying the act’s enormous impact. As one survey taker put it: “De-regulation triggered many of the most influential trends that have reshaped the railroad industry during the past 50 years, including the consolidation of the Class I carriers, the proliferation of short-line railroads, increased investment in new technology, and the sharp drop in employment levels.”
Another said: “The Staggers Act put the industry in a more independent and competitive environment.”
Other oft-mentioned choices include the rise of intermodalism and containerization (cited 19 times); advent of diesel-electric locomotives and phase out of steam locomotives (15 times); creation and/or break up of Conrail (14 times); collapse of the Penn Central Railroad (10 times); advent of computerization/technology (10 times); opening of the Powder River Basin (five times); and introduction of two-man crews (three times).
Meanwhile, several other worthy topics garnered a mention, including the creation of the Transportation Technology Center Inc., ISTEA and the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program; privatization of Mexican railroads; introduction of CTC and radio signaling systems; and growth of federal and state funds for regionals and short lines.
— Jeff Stagl