Thursday, June 14, 2007

Railroad decline

Jason Said:
Illusion # 2Friedman refers to how President Eisenhower responded to the communist threat by building an Interstate system, which "enshrined America's car culture (atrophying our railroads) and locked in suburban sprawl and low-density housing," which all combined to get us 'addicted to cheap fossil fuels."

I am constantly amazed at how naive my southern bretheren can be (all NASCAR fanatics). Chattanooga was once the heart of the southeastern railroad industry, carrying food, cotton, livestock, all kinds of things to the northeast, and transshipping manufactured goods from the midwest to Florida. The rails were the "magic carpet made of steel" (remember "City of New Orleans" by Arlo Guthrie?). Now this system of rails, so energy efficient, has been neglected and allowed to decline. This is a tragedy, but may one day reawaken, if we are smart enough to see the energy benefits of rail. I'd say rail is about 10 times as effiient per ton/mile as trucks.

In the 50's the interstate system, cheap oil, and the luxury of personal transportation led to the replacement of rail cars with tractor trailers for shipment of goods. And I suppose this is a natural consequence of free market economics - service and price dictate who gets the freight. The railroads may be the most energy efficient, but the business model declined to the point where trucking could beat them on service and cost. My family benefited from this, trucking flowers all over the southeast.

If we are going to get serious about reducing oil use, for economic, political, and environmental reasons, we need to reexamine the rail network in this country, how it has been allowed to decline and be underutilized, and what we can do to promote the energy efficiency of this mode of transport. And, as Jason said in his book, don't forget that 50 or 60 percent of our electric power is fueled by coal, delivered in oil-fired diesel locomotives on aging rails. Our Arab trader friends still have their hands in our pockets - that oil from the middle east is 75% of the price of moving $6 a ton coal from Wyoming to plants east of the Mississippi that sells for $23.

The energy pipeline is getting longer and more global and we better look at how we can rescue the rails, we may need them one day. Ha, this is from a guy from Chattanooga "Choo Choo City" TN. God bless Glenn Miller, one day Chatta-boogie with be back on top.

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