Posts Tagged ‘Railroads’

Freight train service connects China to Europe

August 17, 2015

trainRoutePROJ-2300

Some weeks ago a train carrying 80 containers, about as much as a medium-sized container ship, arrived in the Netherlands from China, via Russia, Belarus and Poland.

It reportedly took 22 days.  A container ship would have taken a month for a one-way trip.   The Chinese hope to make the freight service one month for a round trip.

What this signifies is the increasing economic integration of China, Russia and central Asia, the region of the world that is least vulnerable to American air and sea power.

This development is a good thing for the Russian and Chinese people.  It promises greater prosperity with a lesser energy footprint.

It may or may not be a good thing for Russia’s and China’s mainly Muslim subject peoples—the Tatars, Chechens and other minorities in Russia, the Uighurs in China and the subjects of the Russian-backed dictatorships in central Asia.   Ethnic minorities will always be second-class citizens, or worse, within the framework of Chinese and Russian chauvinism.

LINK

Train Through Russia Will Connect Europe and Asia by the Fritzmorgen blog translated for the Southfront blog.

The case for re-building our rail system

May 20, 2015

train-combined2
The recent derailment of an Amtrak train, killing eight people and injuring 200, has people worried about the safety of railroad transportation.  But rail transportation is extremely safe, compared to automobile driving.

It is also more energy-efficient and affordable, and this is going to become more important over time.

I enjoy the freedom of driving my car and of not being tied to a bus or train schedule.  At the same time I’m glad that bus and train transportation is available when I’m not able to drive, and I’d use it more if it were more convenient.

I might prefer a comfortable leisurely train trip to the hassle of traveling by air, if the schedule were convenient.  I’ve never heard of anybody losing a seat on a passenger train because it was over-booked.

And rail transportation when available is the most cost-effective means of shipping freight.
train-combined1

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article making the case for investing in rail transportation.  But the U.S. government is doing the opposite.  It is dis-investing in rail.

amtrak2

Why?  I think it is due to an ideology that has taken root in the Republican Party that public services are in and of themselves a bad thing, unless provided by for-profit corporations.  So public services are starved of the funds they need, which makes them function poorly, which provides a justification for punishing them by further budget cuts.

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Behemoth machines laying railroad track

April 29, 2015

These Plasser & Theurer machines are awesome.  It is even more awesome to think that the U.S. transcontinental railroads were all laid by laborers with hand tools, without such machines as these.

We owe a lot to those old-time railroad laborers, like John Henry in the song.  But we also owe a lot to the inventors and industrialists who made it possible to do the work without back-breaking labor.  Notice, though, that there are workers all around the track-laying machine.  The machines don’t run themselves.  Human beings are not obsolete.

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Inside New York City’s most secret basement

January 15, 2015

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Dagny Taggart and the railroads

April 27, 2011

I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged many years ago, and last week saw the movie “Atlas Shrugged Part One,” the first of a trilogy based on the novel.  It is ironic that Ayn Rand chose the railroad heiress Dagny Taggart as the heroine.  American railroads are one of the starkest illustrations of the difference between actual existing capitalism and Ayn Rand’s “capitalism, the unknown ideal.”

The American railroad system did not come into existence as a result of autonomous individuals engaging in voluntary exchange in a free and unregulated market.  The railroads were built by government-chartered limited-liability corporations exercising the power of eminent domain and other quasi-governmental powers.  The transcontinental railroads were subsidized by huge grants of public lands, whose value far exceeded the cost of the railroad construction.

Railroad operators in the 19th century expropriated small property owners in the name of the greater good, and obtained monopoly rights in the name of the public interest.  They never hesitated to call in state militias or federal troops to suppress strikes.  But when farmers and small merchants proposed regulation of monopoly freight rates, they called a violation of property rights and the free market.

Give credit where credit is due.  Construction of the American rail network, and especially the transcontinental railroads, was a great achievement – second only to the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Russia.  It is no small thing to supervise the construction or operation of a railroad. People who can do this well deserve respect and reward.  But few of the fortunes that were made from railroads at the time were made by the people who made the trains run on time.  They were made by financial and political manipulators.

Railroads in the late 19th century were notorious for issuing “watered stock” – stock in such amounts that the stocks’ face value greatly exceeded the value of assets.  At least the stock did represent a tangible asset, however inflated the pretended value.  The market manipulators of today trade in “derivatives,” which do not represent any asset at all.

Railroads carry freight with less expenditure of energy than trucks and much more less than airlines. Yet in the 20th century, the railroads were unable to compete.  It was left to the federal government to reorganize bankrupt railroads into the Conrail and Amtrak systems.

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