Essay Building Rail to Last

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“A railroad is like a lie, you have to keep building it to make it stand.”
- Mark Twain
Sustainability, the ability to create an enduring system, is a critical factor in the evaluation of an industry. The health of the transportation industry and specifically the railroad industry depends on the industry’s ability to sustain its business model in the face of resource challenges. A key driver of rail sustainability is the infrastructure, the rails, switches, yards and turnouts that the railroad industry uses when moving goods from source to destination. Both the government and the individual railroads are investing heavily in infrastructure projects, and have chosen different targets for improving the health of the railroad system.
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The passage of the Rail Passenger Service Act in 1970 led to the formation of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), and the railroads were given the opportunity to divest their passenger rail service and focus on freight service.
A second boon to the railroad industry occurred in 1980 with the passage of the Staggers Act. The Staggers Act significantly reduced the ability of the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate shipping rates, allowed the railroads to divest unprofitable lines, and legalized railroad-shipper contracts. The combined results of these two major legislative policy actions

were to revive what was a failing railroad industry. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has twice been asked by shippers to investigate freight railroad shipping rates since the passage of the Staggers Act, in 1999 and 2002. Both times, the GAO found that rates “generally had decreased to a greater extent than rates for shipments without such alternatives.” In these cases, at least, effective regulation resulted in a healthy industry.
The freight rail industry in the U.S. is so healthy now, that a comparison of U.S. freight rates to those in other industrialized nations shows the U.S. to have the lowest rates in the world, as depicted in the chart above. In order to continue this trend, however, the country must make

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