Otto Vondrak wrote:The following is not meant to mock anyone's position, but to clarify my point. It is proposed to discuss politics that affect the railroads. What about the weather? Weather affects railroad operations, should we also have a weather discussion forum as well?
But, politics affect the railroad - and its future - even more than the weather might.
The rail industry is in a crossroads. At a time when the nation is just crying out for energy-efficient transport, the rail industry's retracting to a niche mode, bulk commodities for those industries and individual plants that are convenient to serve and can tolerate erratic service.
Why doesn't the rail industry become more competitive? Why does it not aggressively go out and try to beat the relatively inefficeint trucking industry?
Because to do so would require both new ways of doing business, and aggressive fresh minds who can think outside the box.
Why does THAT not happen? The answer is found in the industry itself. Consider this: A bright young man (or woman) graduates from a top business school. He has prospects...he can go to work for Microsoft. He can go to work for General Motors. He can go to work with Sony Pictures, or a thousand other industries and fields.
Is he going to want to go to work in a place where he's given a green eyeshade and a desk in a corner somewhere, where every time he voices an idea, the answer is "SHADDAP!!
No, he is not. So what the industry gets...is the second tier. The young people who went to school on atheletic scholorships but weren't good enough for the pros.
At the heart of this inert culture is the heavily-regulated nature of the field.
Apocriphal: I have never verified this...but a few months after the Conrail breakup, there was word that UPS, a prominent rail shipper, had bought a big chunk of Norfolk Southern stock. We, on the CSX side, joked about it, how the NS guys could start wearing shorts and the improvement in painting black locomotives UPS brown.
But, you know? Nothing further came of it. No tightening of the relationship. In fact, UPS continues to be a prominent CSX shipper.
What happened? I can guess. I'll bet the UPS top honchos went back-channel to the FRA and other regulatory agencies, and posed the question: "How can we run the railroad as we run our delivery service, tight, controlled, customer-oriented?"
The answer, I'd wager, came back: You can't. After which, UPS, owner of truck fleets and even aircraft, gave up on running a railroad.
Were the industry deregulated...it would be messy. It would be, initially, hard on us on the ground. But what would come of the mess would be an industry capable of thinking on its feet, without being hidebound by government regulations.
You see my point, Otto? Politics as they are are intractably wedded to the rail industry, for better or worse.