2nd trick op wrote:
Dressed meat traffic by rail, for example, dried up in the 1950's-60's because the midwestern roads and the eastern tunk lines (New York Central/Pennsylvania/Erie) could no longer co-ordinate their efforts to guarantee reliable delivery deadlines. When I worked for a short time at a major grocery warehouse in southern California (c.1980), the only items coming in directly by rail were sanitary paper and dry pet food.
Roads like IC and the Louie were still running meat trains well into the late 60's, in competition to suppliers at Chicago's Union Stock Yards. On the Louie, it was about the hottest thing running. That was as you said, the beginning of the end. Even the Union Stock Yards were feeling the pressure from rural processors and their lower wages. Traffic dried up on the IHB, GTW, and Chicago Junction as this happened. These smaller processing plants were not tailored for rail service. But today, we see a growing number of companies who consolidate products from those plants, and do rely upon rail to transport, especially for export via Seattle, Tacoma, and East Oakland.
Yet today canned goods are still moving on rails. For example, 12 boxes of corn/veggies departed for Geneva, NY in the last week from our terminal alone, four more released today. I suspect peas from Minnesota are about at their peak of shipping as well, destinations unknown.
And Perishable is seeing a good increase towards the east coast. Railex is doing a good business with their perishable out of Washington and California. Also dedicated service bringing frozen fish from Alaska bound for Everett, MA; wine for Worcester, Mansfield, Kearny, Baltimore, Nashua, Jessup, Readville, Philadelphia, and Liverpool; frozen veggies, potatoes, and carrots, all heading to markets all over the east coast. Tank cars of juices. All moving on a daily basis from the West coast via rail. This is just what I see moving on today's trains.
West to east is not the only market I see with foodstuffs. There is a steadily growing trade of frozen veggies from Canada to Texas moving on a daily basis.
In all, these customers pay for good handling of their products to market. Which has to prove some advantage over carriage by truck. So long as the product the railroads provide remains reliable, one can only see an increase in the business.