by Gilbert B Norman
The railroad industry received quite a boost on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today from "rail friendly' reporter Daniel Machalaba. If you can find it, print or web (subscription site), read it. For myself having joined the industry during 1970, when over one third of the mileage was in bankruptcy protection (and my road was to join the "honor roll' as well) it is indeed heartening to note what a difference 38 years can make in the industry's fortune:
- MERIDIAN, Miss. -- America is back to working on the railroads.
For decades, stretches of track west of this town were so rough that trains couldn't run faster than 25 miles an hour. Lanie Keith, a locomotive engineer for Kansas City Southern, recalls waiting for hours when trains stalled on a steep curve on a stretch of single track between Meridian and Shreveport, La.
But over the past two years, at a cost of $300 million, track crews have transformed the 320-mile route. Installing 960,000 crossties and 80 miles of new rail, they've turned a railroad backwater into a key link in a resurging national transport network. Mr. Keith now skims parts of the improved track, called the Meridian Speedway, at nearly 60 miles an hour. "You went from moving like a turtle to a jack rabbit," he says.
The upgrade is part of a railroad renaissance under way across much of the U.S. For the first time in nearly a century, railroads are making large investments in their networks -- adding sets of tracks, straightening curves that force engines to slow and expanding tunnels for bigger trains. Their campaign is altering the corridors of American commerce, more so than any other development since interstate highways spread to the interior.