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Old May 22nd, 2009, 08:51 PM   #41
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Originally Posted by hkskyline View Post
Are there other large scale secondary ports that can handle the traffic? Is Long Beach the only real choice?
On the West Coast, there is Port of Oakland CA, Portland OR, and Seattle, WA. But I think Long Beach is favored because it is the end of transcontinental routes with the fewest grades (=fewer big mountains to cross), so manufactured goods can get faster to markets.
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Old June 6th, 2009, 09:51 AM   #42
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U.S. rail freight down 23.5 pct from year ago-AAR

WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) - Freight traffic across North America slumped 24.7 percent in the week ended May 30 from the same week a year ago, including a 23.5 percent drop in U.S. rail freight, as demand for rail shipments was dragged down by the economy.

For the first five months of the year, North American rail freight was off 20.2 percent to 7 million carloads from the same 2008 period, the Association of American Railroads said in a weekly report.

Intermodal volume, freight loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train, dropped 16.6 percent in North America from the first five months of 2008, the group said.

U.S. rail carloads fell 10.1 percent to 233,195 in the May 30 week from 259,264 carloads the prior week. Carloads were 26.3 percent below the year-ago week's 316,384 total.

"Industrial production is still down sharply across the board," John Gray, AAR senior vice president, said in a statement.

"That means lower demand for rail service for everything from chemicals and scrap metal to cement and ores. Basically, railroads are in a waiting game -- waiting for the economy to turn," he said.

Freight transported in trailers or containers on U.S. railways for the week ended May 30 was off 19.2 percent from a year ago to 164,916 trailers and containers combined, the association said. Container volume fell 13.8 percent while trailer volume plummeted 39.2 percent from a year ago.

"May marked the second straight month in which U.S. rail coal carloadings had double-digit declines, a consequence of lower electricity demand and higher coal stockpiles," Gray said of coal shipments which were off 15.2 percent from a year ago.

U.S. carloads of all commodities that the association tracks, including the miscellaneous category of "all other carloads," fell from the year-ago week. Declines ranged from 7 percent for farm products excluding grain to 80.3 percent for shipments of metallic ores.

U.S. freight transportation in the first 21 weeks of 2009 has reached an estimated 586.8 billion ton-miles, down 18.5 percent from 720.2 billion at this time a year earlier, the report said.

The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.

The full report is available at http://www.aar.org.
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Old June 14th, 2009, 07:21 PM   #43
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US rail freight off 19.9 percent from year ago-AAR

WASHINGTON, June 11 (Reuters) - Freight traffic across North America slumped 20.8 percent in the week ended June 6 from the same week a year ago, including a 19.9 percent drop in U.S. rail freight, a trade group said on Thursday in a weekly report.

For the first 22 weeks of the year, North American rail freight was off 20.2 percent to 7.3 million carloads from the same 2008 period, the Association of American Railroads said.

Intermodal volume, freight loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train, fell 16.7 percent in North America from the first 22 weeks of 2008, the group said.

U.S. rail carloads rose 11.6 percent to 260,282 in the June 6 week -- the highest in nine weeks -- from 233,195 carloads the prior week. AAR said the increase showed "slight signs of a slowly moving economy."

Carloads were 19.8 percent below the year-ago week's 324,589 total.

Freight transported in trailers or containers on U.S. railways for the week ended June 6 was off 20.1 percent from a year ago to 188,801 trailers and containers combined, the association said. Container volume fell 15.3 percent while trailer volume plummeted 37.7 percent from a year ago.

U.S. carloads of all commodities that the association tracks, with the exception of the miscellaneous category of "all other carloads," fell from the year-ago week. Declines ranged from 6.7 percent in grain mill products to 68.2 percent for shipments of metallic ores.

Miscellaneous carloadings rose 24.4 percent from a year ago, AAR said.

U.S. freight transportation in the first 22 weeks of 2009 has reached an estimated 615.6 billion ton-miles, down 18.4 percent from 754.3 billion at this time a year earlier, the report said.

The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.
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Old June 22nd, 2009, 05:44 PM   #44
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INTERVIEW-BNSF CEO- US at bottom, recovery likely slow

DETROIT, June 15 (Reuters) - The pace of economic decline in the United States appears to have slowed but there are few indications that a recovery will be anything but a long, drawn out affair, the top executive at America's No. 2 U.S. railroad said on Monday.

"It appears that we've seen a leveling out," Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp Chief Executive Matt Rose told Reuters on the sidelines of the National Summit in Detroit. "The next logical question is when does it start to come up."

"It's still too hard to tell, but it definitely feels like we're in the bottoming process," he added.

According to the Association of American Railroads, for the first 22 weeks of 2008 ending June 6 U.S. rail freight volumes were down 19.5 percent. But the pace of decline has slowed in recent weeks.

"But it's going to be a slow recovery, as there's nothing out there that suggests this will turn around quickly," Rose said.

Rose added that the sense he gets from customers and executives at other companies is that there is a "lot more sense of calm than there was 90 days ago" as the economic free fall that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers has eased.

"We're looking for recovery now," he said. "But everybody believes it's going to be a longer climb."
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Old June 30th, 2009, 10:03 PM   #45
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More federal support of freight rail system needed, Senate panel told
19 June 2009
Environment & Energy Daily

Federal efforts and funding to strengthen the nation's freight rail system would relieve the country of road infrastructure problems and threats to competitiveness, several witnesses told a Senate panel yesterday.

"You don't have to be an engineer to ride down a roadbed and see ruts on a rainy day," said Larry "Butch" Brown, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. "That rutting is not caused by light passenger vehicles and pickup trucks. It's coming from the enormous weights we're imposing on the roads."

Fewer heavy trucks on the road would make life a lot easier for Brown. Take away the 80,000- to 90,000-pound semi-rigs that rumble down Mississippi roads and the cost of construction and maintenance would be reduced to a fraction, he said.

"Instead of $10 million to $15 million a mile, we could duplicate those roads for about $1.5 million to $2 million a mile," Brown explained.

Brown was part of a five-person panel of transportation officials, railway executives and retail representatives urging the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security to boost federal support for the nation's stressed freight rail system.

Their plea came just hours after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a draft bill to replace the SAFETEA-LU transportation authorization set to expire this September. Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) outlined a $500 billion, six-year plan that includes the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank to provide grants, loans and other financial tools for states to finance critical freight rail projects.

A shortage of investments in the U.S. intermodal system has led to massive congestion, stymieing the flow of goods to their industrial and retail destinations. The delays have raised annual costs to the country by an estimated $8 billion, according to Cambridge Systematics Inc., a Massachusetts-based transportation consulting firm.

The neglect has come at the cost of the United States' competitiveness in the world economy, said Matt Rose, CEO of BNSF Railway.

"You have to incentivize more capacity," said Rose, who warned that the economic recession was causing an "emotional trap," giving the impression that the rail system will be able to accommodate more goods when the economy recovers.

"This economy will get back to some nominal growth," Rose said, "and it's going to be harder to make the improvements long term than it is going to be right now."

Rose said the country needs a better multi-modal vision for freight rail mobility and called on members to craft incentives like investment tax credits, more public-private partnerships and sensible deregulation.

Moreover, the country needs to find a way to merge transportation, energy and climate policy into one harmonious system, said Rose, adding that one BNSF train removes more than 280 long-haul trucks from the highways.

"The freight's always going to move," Brown said. "Target is always going to get the next box into the country, but that last box will be incredibly inefficient from a carbon standpoint."

Brown, the head of MDOT, is also a member of the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors. While estimations of total freight needs vary greatly, he said there was a strong consensus that a minimum of $7 billion to $10 billion is needed each year to begin addressing the nation's needs to move goods.

He asked the committee to consider those needs as it marks up legislation introduced last month by committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that seeks to move more people and goods onto trains and buses.

Competing demands for freight and passenger service

A recurring concern of witnesses was the need to craft a transportation bill that would not pit passenger and freight rail against each other in the race for funding. President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have pledged to make rail transport a top priority as part of a wider plan to put people back to work and wean the country off petroleum.

High-speed passenger rail received $8 billion in the stimulus package, and the president is calling for $5 billion more over the next five years. But freight rail has received a trickle of the $9.3 billion devoted to rail in the recovery package.

"Congressional action prompted New York to prepare a statewide rail plan that reveals the challenge of competing demand for both rail freight and passenger service," said Richard Roper, director of planning at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "But there's no federal framework -- much less enough funding -- to address both goals."

Roper called for more federal financing for agencies like his, which is run completely on user fees but no taxes from either state. Integrating freight into the next transportation authorization will require the development of a "national freight transportation plan" that can balance the need to move people and goods quickly, he said.

The nation's intermodal system will likely add 1 million containers annually by 2015, according to John Clancey, CEO of Maersk Inc., the largest container shipping company in the United States.
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Old July 12th, 2009, 07:09 AM   #46
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US rail freight off 14.4 percent from year ago-AAR

WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - Freight traffic across North America fell 16.6 percent in the week ended July 4 from the same 2008 week, including a 14.4 percent drop in U.S. rail freight as industry shipments dwindle due to the slumping economy, a trade group said on Thursday in a weekly report.

For the first 26 weeks of the year, North American rail freight was off 20 percent to 8.7 million carloads from 10.8 million in the same 2008 period, the Association of American Railroads said.

Intermodal volume, freight loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train, fell 16.8 percent in North America from the first 26 weeks of 2008, the group said.

The association made a change to its reporting practices this week to reflect Canadian National's acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railroad.

Data was revised as far back as Jan. 1, 2008, to include this traffic in the Canadian freight total, instead of in U.S. freight traffic.

U.S. rail carloads fell 5.7 percent to 241,240 in the July 4 week from 255,934 carloads in the previous week.

Freight transported in trailers or containers on U.S. railways for the week ended July 4 was off 12.8 percent from a year ago to 169,290 trailers and containers combined, the association said. Container volume fell 6.4 percent while trailer volume plummeted 34.9 percent from a year ago.

"Freight traffic on U.S. railroads continues to parallel the nation's overall economic condition," the report said.

U.S. carloads of most of the commodities that the association tracks fell from the year-ago week. Declines ranged from 3.3 percent for coal to 72.4 percent for metallic ores.

Shipments of grain mill products managed a 4.3 percent gain from a year ago.

U.S. freight transportation in the first 26 weeks of 2009 has reached an estimated 723.7 billion ton-miles, down 18.3 percent from 885.7 billion at this time a year earlier, the report said.

The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.
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Old July 17th, 2009, 04:45 AM   #47
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CSX thinks demand has hit its worst point, but recovery may be down the line
14 July 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Railroad operator CSX Corp. said Tuesday that demand might have reached its worst point, signaling possible but still far-off signs of an economic recovery.

Shares leaped on the news, a day after the company reported second-quarter earnings that fell 20 percent, but topped Wall Street expectations. The stock jumped $2.26, or 7 percent, to close at $34.80 Tuesday. The stock has ranged between $20.70 and $69.50 in the past year.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX expects shipping demand to sink by double digits again this quarter, but not as drastically as in the second-quarter. Shipping volume fell 21 percent in the April-June period, compared with 22 percent industrywide. Business on the tracks is viewed as a key economic indicator because so many consumer and manufactured goods move on railroads.

CSX, the nation's third-largest railroad, is the first of the major rails to report earnings.

In a conference call with analysts and investors, the railroad said it is prepared to bring back furloughed employees and restart idled rail cars when the economy begins to pick up, but it is still not sure when that will happen. It is possible, the company noted, that the economy will remain at low levels for some time.

Citi Investment Research Matthew Troy said in a note to clients Tuesday that he thinks investors are underestimating the potential for a "long, drawn-out recovery." He applauded CSX's performance in the quarter, but suggested investors hold their money.

As of the end of the second quarter, the railroad had 29,878 employees, compared with 33,082 a year earlier. The number of active train and engine workers was down 17 percent, and the number of its signature yellow and blue locomotives dropped by the same amount. CEO Michael Ward said the company brought back "a couple hundred" employees during the second quarter to cover active employees' summer vacations and retirements.

The company didn't offer an earnings outlook, but said it now expects to get more money from raising prices this year among its existing customers -- about 75 percent of its annual business. It predicts it will now be able to increase prices by 6.6 percent this year, compared with a previous estimate of 5 to 6 percent.

Ward said that cost cuts should continue to buoy sinking demand this quarter. In the second quarter, the company slashed expenses by 27 percent from a year earlier -- mostly through labor reductions.
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 07:13 PM   #48
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Burlington Northern Santa Fe set to report earnings on Thursday; analysts await demand news
23 July 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Analysts expect the second-quarter profit of railroad operator Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. to fall from a year ago. They're just not sure how much.

Shipping demand was still very weak in the second quarter, although railroads indicated there were signs that volume was approaching its worst point. Industrywide, demand fell 22 percent from a year ago.

Analysts, on average, predict the nation's second-largest railroad will report a profit of $1.01 per share, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. That's down from $1.34 a year ago.

The company has said that while coal demand has leveled off a bit in the second quarter, demand for agricultural, consumer and industrial products -- three cornerstones of its business -- were similar to weak levels seen in the first three months of this year.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX Corp., the first railroad to report, said its second-quarter earnings fell 20 percent as it collected fewer fuel surcharges and shipments continued to drop. The results still topped Wall Street's expectations, as the company slashed expenses by 27 percent.

Burlington Northern is set to report after the market closes on Thursday. Burlington's chief rival, Union Pacific Corp., also reports earnings Thursday.
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Old August 1st, 2009, 07:29 AM   #49
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Norfolk So CEO confident on 2010 price rises

CHICAGO, July 29 (Reuters) - The top executive of America's No. 4 railroad said on Wednesday the company faces tough negotiations with customers on pricing because of the recession but said he is confident of raising prices for rail freight services for 2010.

"It's going to be a tough pricing environment out there," Norfolk Southern CorpChief Executive Wick Moorman told Reuters in a telephone interview. "But our anticipation is that pricing will be above inflation because we continue to offer a very high service level."

Like the other major U.S. railroads, Norfolk Southern has posted robust profits in recent quarters as pricing discipline and cost-cutting have offset the impact of falling freight volumes.

Norfolk posted a second-quarter profit late Tuesday that beat analyst expectations, but it fell short of Wall Street predictions on the revenue side.

"We continue to favor rails over trucks/parcel and believe investors should be looking to add risk to play the pending volume recovery," Morgan Stanley analyst William Greene wrote in a research note on Norfolk Southern's results.

"As destocking slows and the economy edges towards positive 3Q GDP readings (led by increased auto production), we expect volumes and sentiment to improve," Greene said.

Moorman said that the railroad has seen a "little bit" of recent improvement in steel and automotive-related shipments.

"But the question is whether it can be sustained," he said. "At this point, however, we're not making any plans to ramp our network as we don't see any sign of a significant rebound any time in the near future."

Moorman said the Norfolk, Virginia-based railroad is not expecting much in the way of a peak shipping season for consumer goods ahead of the holidays this year.

"I don't think anyone is expecting a seasonal surge this year," he said.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Norfolk Southern shares were down $1.13, or 2.6 percent, at $42.50.
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Old August 19th, 2009, 08:20 PM   #50
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US rail freight off 17.4 percent from year ago-AAR

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Freight traffic across North America fell 18.2 percent in the week ended Aug. 1 from the same 2008 week, including a 17.4 percent drop in U.S. rail freight, a trade group said on Thursday in a weekly report.

For the first 30 weeks of the year, North American rail freight was off 19.8 percent to 10 million carloads from 12.5 million in the same 2008 period, the Association of American Railroads said.

Intermodal volume, freight loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train, fell 17.1 percent in North America from the first 30 weeks of 2008, the group said.

U.S. rail carloads rose 0.3 percent to 274,728 in the Aug. 1 week from 273,943 carloads in the previous week.

Freight transported in trailers or containers on U.S. railways for the week ended Aug. 1 was off 16.1 percent from a year ago to 193,684 trailers and containers combined, the association said. Container volume fell 10.6 percent while trailer volume plummeted 36.4 percent from a year ago.

U.S. carloads of all the commodities that the association tracks fell from the year-ago week. Declines ranged from 6.5 percent for grain mill products to 42.6 percent for shipments of metallic ores.

For the month of July, U.S. rail carloads were down 17.5 percent from a year ago, with carloadings down in every commodity group.

"July was an interesting month," John Gray, AAR senior vice president, said in a statement.

"If you see the glass as half full, 14 carload commodity categories were 'less worse off' than they were in the first half of the year," he said.

Gray noted that shipments of motor vehicles, down 37.5 percent in the month, improved from recent levels, but that came with "a billion dollars" of aid from the government.

"When this assistance ends," he said, "it remains to be seen whether the combination of production, inventory and sales levels will continue to boost railcar loadings."

U.S. freight transportation in the first 30 weeks of 2009 has reached an estimated 839 billion ton-miles, down 18.1 percent from 1.025 trillion at this time a year earlier, the report said.

The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.
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Old August 30th, 2009, 08:00 AM   #51
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US weekly rail freight shows small gain -AAR

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (Reuters) - U.S. bulk rail traffic reached its highest weekly level since early March, but the recession continues to hurt overall volumes, an economist said.

Weekly rail traffic was up 1.1 percent for the week ended Aug. 22, reaching a five-month high, the Association of American Railroads said in a report on Thursday.

But compared with a year ago, weekly rail carloadings were still down 16.1 percent, the group said.

July was the ninth straight month of double-digit declines in U.S. carloads, the trade group said, although it noted the dip was the smallest in three months.

The slight uptick since April does not mean the recession is over for rail freight, "but at least we can say traffic is moving in the right direction," Shannon Stare, an economist with the group, said in a statement.

U.S. carloads of most commodities the association tracks fell from the year-ago week.

The exception was nonmetallic minerals, such as sand, gravel, stone and clay used in highway and road construction.

Weekly rail shipments of those materials were up 1.3 percent from a year ago.

Spending on public construction hit a record high in June, according to the Commerce Department.

Intermodal volume -- freight loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train -- has not seen the kinds of gains made in U.S. bulk rail traffic, the economist said.

Freight transported in trailers or containers on U.S. railways for the week ended Aug. 22 was off 16.2 percent from a year ago to 193,207 trailers and containers combined, the association said.

Stare said the continued slow intermodal pace was not surprising because containers mainly ship consumer products.

"If people aren't building or buying things, freight rail traffic feels the effects," Stare said.

U.S. retail sales were down in July, and the likelihood of large gains in August are slim based on the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. The report showed U.S. consumers' confidence sagged in early August in the face of scarce jobs and falling income.

Total U.S. freight transportation in the first 33 weeks of 2009 reached an estimated 927.7 billion ton-miles, down 17.9 percent from 1.130 trillion ton-miles a year ago, the weekly report said.

The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.
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Old August 31st, 2009, 04:14 AM   #52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nomarandlee View Post
I didn't know that all those ripped out rails were likely to lead right doorstep of stores and retail all over the country. Trucks are an essential part of our society today, the question is not how many there "should be" but what distance each truck will travel.

Also the railroads were doing well before the slump as well given the higher gas prices. It was during the late 80's and 90's during the era of cheap fuel that trains had some of their worst years.
There are a lot of disconnected sidings and industrial branches along the Northeast Corridor, though thouse companies are still quite active.

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Originally Posted by hkskyline View Post
Are there other large scale secondary ports that can handle the traffic? Is Long Beach the only real choice?
Port of Newark, Baltimore, Boston.

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Originally Posted by He Named Thor View Post
I used to work with someone who had been in the shipping department of a large company. According to him shipping by rail is good for non-perishables and real bulk freight. Trucks are actually faster.
The reason trucks are faster is because lots of parallel tracks were torn up or simply left to rot or built over. If we still had the same amount of line track (vs yard track) that we did in 1946, rail freight would be the obvious choice for sending anything anywhere except any cross country 1-3 day deliveries. You would see fedex, USPS, DHL, UPS, TNT etc railcars, and i don't mean the intermodal kind.

Quote:
Originally Posted by urbanfan89 View Post
If I had my way, the entire rail network on the North American continent would be nationalized and given to state/provincial authorities, where they would be reborn as European-like public bodies. They would then rationalize the system (no more parallel railways competing) and promote efficiencies which can deliver more services.
Firstly, the east coast lines were nationalized from 1971 up until the 90's. Secondly, there is no way a nationalized freight system would work in the usa, it's too big with too many differing views, needs, and ideas.

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Originally Posted by urbanfan89 View Post
One can hope :P that the economic crisis forces CN, CP, UP, CSX, etc to the brink of bankruptcy and require a public bailout just like the banks and auto industry...
Not going to happen, these companies are 100% solid and made good business practices, can't say that about the auto makers or banks. They will be fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by particlez View Post
railways are a natural monopoly. it didn't make sense (from a macroeconomic perspective) to have them in private hands. the argument back then was to have the railways compete with the trucking industry. it just resulted in a powerful trucking industry, and a bunch of disparate yet still profitable rail routes.
Intermodal and semi trailerflat cars could carry more than there are trucks in the world.

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Originally Posted by k.k.jetcar View Post
On the West Coast, there is Port of Oakland CA, Portland OR, and Seattle, WA. But I think Long Beach is favored because it is the end of transcontinental routes with the fewest grades (=fewer big mountains to cross), so manufactured goods can get faster to markets.
They are expanding & upgrading Port of Newark in NJ.

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Old September 9th, 2009, 12:05 PM   #53
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N.America railroads see green shoots but CP demurs

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Three large North American railroad companies said on Tuesday they see tentative signs of a recovery in the U.S. and Canadian economies but Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd disagreed.

Canadian National Railway Co , Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp said freight volumes had edged up in the past couple of months, the first "green shoots" of growth since the recession decimated carload numbers starting in the fourth quarter of last year.

"Today I feel good to tell you that we feel that we have found the bottom and that it is a firm one," said Claude Mongeau, chief financial officer and chief-executive-in-waiting of Canadian National Railway Co .

"We are on the path to recovery," Mongeau, who takes the reins at year-end at Canada's largest railroad company, said at a transportation conference in Toronto.

He cautioned though that there were still risks of a "false start" if a "double-dip" recession was in the wings. But he remained optimistic of slow growth in 2010 and 2011, helped by government stimulus spending starting from next year.

But Fred Green, chief executive of Canadian Pacific, CN's chief rival, said there were no clear signs yet of an economic recovery and instead predicted a rebound was at least nine months away.

"I am not seeing any evidence anywhere that would cause me to believe that there is a substantive, sustained recovery under way," Green said. "I don't personally believe yet that we are done on the downside."

"I am looking at the second half of 2010 before I think that we will see any growth."

CP Rail and CN operate both in Canada and the United States across broad swathes of the economy, shipping a variety of goods from grains to metals, timber and retail products.

Green said he was unsure whether CP Rail would have its traditional "fall peak", when retailers bring in large volumes of imported goods in advance of the Christmas shopping season.

As of the end of August, CP Rail's carloads were 19 percent to 20 percent below what they were a year ago. However, that was an improvement on the 32 percent year-on-year decline in the second quarter of this year.

On the bright side for the railway, Canada's grain crop looks strong this year although potash shipments are quiet.

Turning south, an executive of Burlington Northern said the railroad, which operates in the U.S. West and Midwest, was enjoying a "modest uptick" in carloads in the last six or seven weeks.

Especially encouraging was the fact that the improvement was in consumer-sensitive areas like intermodal and industrial products as opposed to coal haulage, where carload increases can be driven by the weather, said Thomas Hund, Burlington Northern's chief financial officer.

Norfolk Southern chief financial officer Jim Squires was also sanguine on the outlook for the No.4 U.S. railroad although he said economic conditions in the United States remain unstable.

"It does appear as if we have experienced a bottom in the economy," Squires said.
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Old September 19th, 2009, 02:29 PM   #54
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US rail carloadings decline from year earlier--AAR

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - U.S. weekly rail traffic fell in the week ended Sept. 12 compared to the year-ago week, but figures were skewed by the Labor Day holiday, a trade group said in a report on Thursday.

Carloadings on major U.S. railroads dipped 19.8 percent to to 263,349 from 328,250 in the same 2008 week, the Association of American Railroads said in a weekly report.

Carloads were also down 7.5 percent from 284,715 last week.

Shipments of all commodities the association tracks fell from a year ago. Declines ranged from 1.5 percent in farm products, excluding grain, to 52.3 percent for shipments of metallic ores. Carloads of motor vehicles and parts, expected to see increases from the "cash for clunkers" program, were down 32.8 percent from a year ago.

"The comparison week from last year, however, did not include the Labor Day holiday," AAR said. The trade group has said trends could not be determined until after the holiday was no longer a factor.

Intermodal volume, which primarily consists of consumer goods loaded into a container or truck trailer and then transported by train, fell 25.8 percent from a year ago.

But other economic data this week pointed to an improving economy. Earlier on Thursday, the Labor Department said U.S. jobless claims fell to 545,000 in the week ended Sept. 12 from 557,000 the prior week. The Commerce Department also reported a 1.5 percent rise in U.S. August housing starts to an annual rate of 598,000 units.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday said the recession is "very likely over." But he added that job growth and recovery would be moderate going into next year.

"Even though from a technical perspective the recession is very likely over at this point, it's still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time," Bernanke told a Brookings Institution conference.

Also this week, Commerce said U.S. August retail sales rose 2.7 percent, boosted by a 10.6 percent jump in sales of motor vehicles and parts, while the Fed reported a 0.8 percent rise in industrial production in August as output of motor vehicles and parts increased.

AAR said total U.S. freight transportation in the first 36 weeks of 2009 reached an estimated 1.017 trillion ton-miles, down 17.5 percent from 1.233 trillion in the same 2008 period. The ton-mile is a unit used by the association and represents one ton of freight hauled one mile.
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Old October 20th, 2009, 07:02 AM   #55
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COLUMN-Rising rail freight volumes point to recovery: John Kemp

LONDON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Rising freight movements on U.S. railroads provide unambiguous confirmation that manufacturing activity has begun to increase.

Most manufactured items move in intermodal containers by rail, road and sea, so container counts provide the most accurate, real-time measure of changes in manufacturing output.

Freight movements are strongly influenced by both public holidays and seasonal factors, normally peaking in late September and early October as consumer goods are shipped from the manufacturers to retailers ahead of the Christmas shopping season.

Year-on-year comparisons therefore provide a better guide to activity levels than week-to-week changes. Unfortunately, the collapse in activity during the final quarter of 2008 provides a poor baseline for comparison. But a comparison with volumes in the same period in 2007, which was more typical year, shows clear signs of a pick up.

The number of containers hauled on U.S. railroads last week (176,578) was down just 13,479 (-6 percent) compared with the same period in 2007, a marked improvement on mid-May, when volumes were down 14.5 percent, or mid-April, when volumes were down 13.0 percent.

Container volumes have continued to rise beyond their normal seasonal peak, suggesting the increase is not purely a seasonal effect and indicates real underlying improvement.

The key question is whether it can be sustained once the shopping season is over and short-term boost from rebuilding depleted stocks along the supply chain has run its course.

UNPRECEDENTED STIMULUS

While the expansion will have to overcome strong headwinds from the continued rise in unemployment (a lagging indicator), the burden of household debt inherited from the boom years, and a much more restrictive credit environment, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

In the early stages, activity should be driven by business investment and exports. The degree of stimulus from both the monetary and fiscal authorities is unprecedented. Plentiful liquidity combined with near-zero money market rates is forcing capital deployment towards higher-risk asset classes (equities and corporate issuance) and easing credit conditions for at least some corporations (those not over-leveraged as a result of private equity deals or aggressive debt-fuelled expansion strategies before 2008).

Senior Fed officials have already noted signs of a modest upturn in business spending on equipment and software (notably computers and vehicles), though construction spending looks set to remain depressed for some time, owing to the huge overhang of unused office space from the building boom and the substantial amount of spare production capacity in many manufacturing industries.

The dollar's renewed devaluation will provide an additional stimulus for exporters and import-competing firms, and U.S. manufacturers are set to benefit from a gradual strengthening of demand in key export markets across Asia and Europe.

FITFUL RECOVERY -- AS USUAL

The most likely outcome is a slow, fitful recovery, which will require support from ultra-low interest rates and liquidity measures for an extended period. In fact, the recovery could look a lot like the rather anaemic upturn after the last recession in 2000-2001. The last trough in the business cycle was reached as early as November 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)'s Business Cycle Dating Committee, but growth remained so weak the Fed was still cutting rates as late as June 2003, and did not feel emboldened to begin raising them until June 2004. Uncertain recoveries are the norm rather than the exception.

I have written before about the two very distinct types of recessions experienced since the end of World War Two: (1) severe recessions characterised by declines in final demand for at least two consecutive quarters; and (2) inventory-driven recessions where final demand remained positive throughout but the attempt to liquidate excess inventories by cutting production below final consumption pushed the economy into a contraction.

Past experience suggests the early stages of recovery are very different depending on whether the economy is emerging from a severe recession or an inventory-driven one.

After severe recessions, inventory rebuilding makes only a modest contribution to the upswing in the first nine months. Recovery is reliant on final demand, which shows a strong impulse within about 6 to 9 months after the bottom of the cycle is passed.

In contrast, after inventory-driven recessions, final demand was much less important, with restocking supplying most of the initial impetus for expansion.

For the first time, the current downturn appears to be a blend of the two. In the depth of the contraction and loss of final demand, it has the characteristics of a severe recession. But in the speed of production losses and inventory reductions, it has many of the features of an inventory-driven one; just-in-time ordering and manufacturing systems accelerated and amplified the response to the drop in consumer and business spending.

If the current recession is indeed a sui generis mix, the recovery is also likely to be blend, combining moderate inventory rebuilding (in the first six months) with renewed growth in final demand (starting from 3 to 9 months after the cyclical trough).

If we date the trough to sometime in Q3 2009, restocking should support the economy in Q4 2009 and Q1 2010, while final demand will start to show signs of sustained improvement by Q2 2010.

The most dangerous period will come in Jan-Mar 2010, when the initial impetus from the inventory cycle starts to fade but businesses and households may not yet feel confident enough to commit to substantial purchases.
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Old October 22nd, 2009, 03:17 AM   #56
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Back in the 50's, a now defunct (because of the current economic issues sadly & ironically) furniture company would bring their stock in by train, because it saved them 6 dollars a piece... This was on a line that is now inactive but still owned by SEPTA, the regional transit agency here. Why they have not electrified to my town and run trains here with a yard is beyond me, i think ti would spur huge economic benefits and jobs.

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Old November 5th, 2009, 04:16 PM   #57
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Coal demand set to drive new U.S. rail boom: John Kemp

LONDON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Warren Buffett's investment in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad is a shrewd move and highlights the tangled relationship between coal, rail and electricity industries.

It gives Berkshire Hathaway exposure to an industry with formidable entry barriers and pricing power, where capacity constraints will quickly emerge as the economy picks up, and could become severe if coal demand continues to grow in the decade ahead.

* For U.S. railroads, coal is their biggest customer by both tonnage and revenue. It accounted for 44 percent of the total tonnage moved by rail in 2007, and 21 percent of the gross revenue for the major Class I railroads, according to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which regulates rail rates.

* For miners, rail is the most important mode of transport, taking 71 percent of the total tonnage shipped, far ahead of road (11 percent) and water-based vessels (11 percent).

* Power producers depend on both. Coal-fired plants generated 50 percent of all U.S. electricity last year, far ahead of natural gas (21 percent), nuclear (20 percent) or conventional hydro (6 percent). In most cases, coal moved from the mine to the power plant on a railcar.

UNDER-INVESTMENT, RISING RATES

Before the financial crisis, severe capacity constraints were emerging in the industry. The volume of coal shipped each year rose almost a third between 1995 (625 million tons) and 2007 (850 million tons). Despite efforts to boost efficiency by using larger railcars, running 24 hours per day, and loading coal into "unit trains", the number of railcars originated grew almost a quarter from just over 6 million a year to 7.5 million.

Investment failed to keep pace. Building new rail infrastructure is at the mercy of the economic cycle. Construction and investment is very capital intensive. Costs take years to recover but demand increases can be short-lived. Railroad companies have often been punished by Wall Street for making capital investments, according to the STB.

Between 1987 and 2004, rail operators' rates for carrying coal fell by more than half in real terms, as an overhang of excess capacity from previous periods and pressure from rail regulators put a fierce squeeze on charges.

But by the early part of this decade, most of this capacity cushion had disappeared, and rates rose sharply in 2005, 2006 and 2007, with the largest increases for the short journeys where one rail operator often had dominance over the market.

Even after recent rate rises, real revenues per ton-mile were 34 percent lower in 2007 than in 1990.

In the STB's judgment, rail carriers were still not earning "adequate revenues", which the Board defines as "sufficient -- under honest, economical, and efficient management -- to cover operating expenses, support prudent capital outlays, repay a reasonable amount of debt, raise needed equity capital, and otherwise attract or retain capital in amounts adequate to provide a sound rail transportation system" (STB Ex Parte 657, page 6).

This was a strong hint the Board was prepared to accept further rate rises. In the event, the recession has seen the emergence of excess capacity. But as the economy recovers, this excess will disappear and upward pressure on rates looks set to resume.

INCREASING COAL-FIRED GENERATION

The main long-term source of uncertainty for the rail industry is whether coal-fired generation will continue to expand in the medium term.

The United States has the world's largest recoverable coal reserves (about a quarter of the total) sufficient to last more than 200 years. Increasing coal-fired generation would help curb dependence on crude oil imports.

With its high ratio of carbon to hydrogen atoms, however, coal produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) on combustion than natural gas, and is regarded as one of the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. Tough cap-and-trade proposals would probably have made further development uneconomic and even seen the industry shrink.

But two developments this year have seemed to resolve this uncertainty in favour of an expansion in coal-fired generation:

(1) Cap-and-trade proposals before the U.S. Congress contain generous allocations of emissions permits for power utilities over the next two decades, which will help ease the pressure on coal producers.

(2) The Obama administration has committed itself to an expansion of coal-fired generation linked to new technologies for integrated gasification and combined-cycle generation (IGCC) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) to limit the emissions impact.

In a letter to other energy ministers, Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged "coal … is likely to be a major and growing source of electricity generation for the foreseeable future". Chu called for an "aggressive effort" to develop and deploy CCS technology.

The Obama administration has restored $1 billion of federal government funding to the FutureGen partnership with coal and power producers to develop a "zero emissions" power plant in Illinois that will use IGCC and CCS technology, injecting liquid CO2 into saline aquifers. The aim is to have a commercial-scale plant operating by 2016.

In addition, the administration has committed $1.3 billion to five demonstration projects retrofitting existing industrial facilities and power plants with CCS.

The administration's enthusiasm for IGCC and CCS technologies has lifted the Damoclean Sword hanging over the coal industry -- and in turn provided guaranteed growth for the rail companies.

WRANGLING OVER COAL RATES

The STB has legal authority to set maximum rail haulage rates per ton where a railroad has "market dominance" (defined as the absence of effective competition from other rail carriers or modes or transportation to which a rate applies).

In the event a carrier sets its rates at more than 180 percent of its variable costs (the threshold level for intervention) customers can ask the Board to investigate. If the Board finds the rate is "unreasonable" it can prescribe a maximum rate in future and order the railroad to pay "reparations" for overcharging on past movements.

Following a review in 2006, the Board has replaced the old rate-case guidelines. The new system fixes future rates as a maximum mark up over allowable variable operating costs, with adjustments for productivity and certain other limited factors.

BNSF v WESTERN FUELS ASSOCIATION

Ironically, the first case brought under the new system was a complaint by the Western Fuels Association (WFA) against coal rates fixed by Burlington Northern for a short journey between mines and a power plant in Wyoming.

In a stinging rebuke to BNSF, the Board found that "Although the challenged rates are among the lowest … any utility pays to receive [Powder River Basin] coal, WFA has shown that its rates far exceed the level BNSF needs to charge to earn a reasonable return … because the plant is located so close to the PRB … As such it is now clear that BNSF has been forcing WFA to cross-subsidise other parts of BNSF's broader rail network that WFA does not use".

BNSF was ordered to cut rates as much as 60 percent for 2009 and pay reparations for past overcharging.

As the Board thundered: "This amounts to the largest single rate reduction in rail rates ever ordered by this agency. We estimate reparations are roughly $28 million per year. We further estimate that the total relief WFA will obtain as a result of this order -- including both reparations and the lower prescribed rate through 2024 -- will approximate $345 million (in current dollars)". On Oct 21, BNSF was given a final order to repay WFA $120 million.

But the details of the WFA case should not obscure the fact coal and other rates are set to rise substantially in the coming years to fund the massive investment that will be needed to ease congestion and create new capacity to meet growing demand.
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Old November 9th, 2009, 09:00 PM   #58
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Thought I'd stick this here:


Warren Buffett buys Burlington Northern for $34B
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-b...36018&seenIt=1

(AP) — Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. on Tuesday agreed to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., a mainstay of Chicago's freight rail industry, making a $34 billion bet on the future of the U.S. economy.

Burlington Northern, the nation's second-largest railroad, is the biggest hauler of food products like corn and coal for electricity, making it an indicator of the country's economic health. The railroad also ships a large amount of goods from Western ports including everyday items such as refrigerators, clothing and TVs.

BNSF has deep roots in Chicago and its reach here is broad. The city serves as the railroad’s eastern end point for its western U.S. routes, and locally, Metra commuter trains use the BNSF track.

Chicago freight rail expert Gerald Rawlings says he anticipates Mr. Buffett’s purchase will not mean any changes in Metra service or in the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency group, known as Create, a project that aims to reduce rail congestion.


Much more at link.

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Old November 20th, 2009, 04:30 AM   #59
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Quote:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8363565.stm



Full steam ahead for US railways


By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, New Mexico
Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The story of the railroad is written like a thread of thick and shining steel woven into the tapestry of American history.

There is a poetry to the names of the trains and the tracks that bound this great land together as it expanded west towards California in the 19th Century.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the names of the Wabash Cannonball or the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe are remembered in song where those of the London and North Eastern Railway or the French national SNCF by and large are not.

This month's business headlines though are a reminder that America's railways have a future, as well as a past.

It was the announcement that Warren Buffett - the man often described as the world's greatest investor - was forking out $44bn (£26bn) for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) which made the news.

If the Oracle of Omaha was convinced there was money to be made on the rails, ran the argument in many investment columns, then surely he must be right.

And in a sense, you could see his decision to invest as a kind of vote of confidence in the whole American economy - after all BNSF carries the heavy stuff like coal and corn - the kind of commodities for which you can expect increased demand when recovery comes.

And even if recovery is not economically straightforward, of course it hauls cheap imported goods from Asia to points all over the United States from the Pacific ports - like Los Angeles - where they land.

Freight success

Mr Buffett himself explains the reasoning behind one of the biggest investment decisions of his career in characteristically straightforward terms as a bet on the future of his country.

He says simply: "It's a very effective way of moving goods. I basically believe this country will prosper and you'll have more people moving more goods 10 and 20 and 30 years from now, and the rails should benefit."

But the truth is that American freight railways have probably been doing rather better than you might have been thinking for quite a while.

True, it is not so long since there were too many, too big, railway companies with thousands of miles of uneconomic track, unprofitable passenger operations and over-long pay rolls - there was a time when 2% of the entire population of the United States worked on the railroad.

Deregulation set the industry onto a leaner, but more profitable path (it happened under Jimmy Carter by the way, rather than under Ronald Reagan) and rail companies settled down to making steady, if unspectacular profits moving bulk goods across the vast expanses of North America.

The industry has prospered to the extent that it now transports nearly 10 times more freight by rail than the European Union does.

That may come as something of a surprise when you consider how ready Europeans tend to be to lecture Americans about the environment.

Rail travel is vastly more environmentally friendly than road transport - American trains can shift a ton of freight over 436 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel for example.

So the freight sector is strong and will get stronger as the American economy revives. Does that mean there is also a future for rail passenger transport here? The short answer is that it might - and the prospects have probably improved a little in the last year.

Passenger trains of course are already an important part of the transport mix in big cities, especially in New York.

'Essence of frontier state'

And around the time the stimulus programme was passed, there was talk of new state investment in high-speed rail links - even if some of it was accompanied by dark muttering that one of the potential projects just happened to be in the constituency of Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

And from New Mexico, perhaps rather surprisingly, comes a striking example that new passenger rail projects can be made to work in North America.

The south-western state where commuter trains carve their way between craggy mountains and across sun-baked plains is the very essence of an American frontier state - a place where the old settler trails crossed Mexican and Navajo lands.

Under its governor - the former presidential candidate Bill Richardson - New Mexico has used public money (quite a bit of it) to open a new train service operating between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a distance of about 60 miles.

It was a very European solution to a worldwide problem of overcrowding on the highways - and a direct alternative to widening one of the state's most congested roads, I-25.

'Rifles and pick-ups'

The Rail Runner (the name is a play on the state bird, the roadrunner) is a clean, modern, roomy double-decker train that offers what by European standards are very low prices for a 90-minute commuter journey.

Mr Richardson admits that selling the idea of environmentally-friendly public transport to car-happy New Mexicans was not easy at first.

"A lot of New Mexicans said this is going to be Richardson's folly... we like to drive our pick-ups, we like to drive fast, we like to drive along with our rifles in the rack at the back of the car, and what's happened is everyone's realised that the Rail Runner has been a blessing because it gets people to where they're going quicker," he says.

"And you know, that lone spirit, that individualist spirit, you can still exercise it on a train."

Rail Runner is still bedding down - there are more stations due to open in the future for example - but the commuters we spoke to as we travelled between Albuquerque and Santa Fe were all keen supporters of the project.

Bill Richardson, one of America's most experienced politicians, does believe there is a head of steam growing up once again behind the idea of expanding rail travel in America.

As part of his case he points to the reputation of Warren Buffett as a kind of superstar of capitalism.

"That's his image," he told me. "Everything he touches turns to gold, so if Buffett is putting money into trains and rails, then that is a good signal."

We will see - there are plenty more economic and environmental points to be made - and the over-arching argument to be had about whether or not public transport in itself is compatible with the rugged individualism of the American way.
....
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Old November 20th, 2009, 05:37 AM   #60
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...the over-arching argument to be had about whether or not public transport in itself is compatible with the rugged individualism of the American way.
This equation of "rugged individualism" (a real laugher when most people today live in cities and suburbs utterly dependent on public services and consumerist institutions) being incompatible with public transport is nonsense. The idea that owning a car = freedom is a construct of the past fifty or so years created by the auto industry and big oil. The true "rugged individualist" settlers of the American West relied on the railroad to transport them and ship their freight. Before the age of "happy motoring", our grandparents and great-grandparents- certainly more self-reliant and "rugged" than the current obese generation, relied on an excellent network of rail transport between cities supported by comprehensive rail transit within the cities (trolleys/interurbans). It can be argued that comprehensive passenger rail actually makes people more free to be individualistic- by allowing choices in how they get around, free from the shackles of rising oil prices, insurance companies, and the environmental destruction caused by sprawl.
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