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Rail News Home Federal Legislation & Regulation

June 2008

Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Online readers sound off

We wanted to know what our readers considered to be the seminal freight-rail events of the past 50 years. So, we conducted an informal online poll from March 17 to April 7 and asked our “Daily News” readers and visitors: “What’s the biggest freight-rail industry event of the past 50 years, and why?”

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).

Here’s a sampling of survey taker’s comments:

  • “The preservation of competition in eastern freight railroading through a truly remarkable series of events — government intervention, the Conrail turnaround under Stanley Crane, the government getting out of the railroad business, the continued success of Conrail, and the split up between CSX and NS, who refused to take it on in the first place back in 1976.”
  • “Intermodal growth and how the railroads have successfully adapted to accommodate it (example: the Alameda Corridor, raising clearances on the former PRR through Pennsylvania, double-tracking of BNSF “Transcon” route).”
  • “Dieselization — the first time the entire industry made a wholesale technological shift (vs. incremental shifts made earlier).”
  • We received a few off-the-beaten-path comments, too, including:
  • “The introduction of electronics, first for control then for high-power operations, which in turn enabled many technical improvements in all sorts of equipment. And to this day, a low-current and relatively low-voltage selenium rectifier from the early days can be purchased new!”
  • The Trans Siberian Railway. Because of the difficulty and very long journey.”

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


Browse articles on Staggers Act Staggers Rail Act railroad deregulation intermodal intermodalism containerization diesel-electric locomotive Conrail

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