*American Railroads* (arrived on my desk)

by on May 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm in Books, Economics, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

The subtitle is Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century, and the authors are Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer.  John Meyer passed away in 2009 and this volume is a finished version of his last major work.

Le Noan May 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm

there’s this one too that seems interesting http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2364882

Sergei witte May 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm

I’d be interested in a similar book titled “German railroads”.

Dismalist May 27, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Id’ be interested in similar books on virtually anybody’s railroads–for well under $10! :-)

carlospln May 28, 2014 at 3:02 am
charlie May 27, 2014 at 6:51 pm

If we could only force everyone to walk, bike or take transit to work, we would have a world class road system for autonomous vehicle deliveries.

JCW May 27, 2014 at 7:28 pm

If trends in oil pricing and demand are any indication, Mr. Market will do that very thing sooner than many Americans expect.

Or force us to drive some variant of hybrid / electric / solar / magical cars.

*shrug*

JWatts May 28, 2014 at 10:09 am

A mix of plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars will gradually take over from pure IC vehicles if present trends continue. The cost of batteries per kwh has a long term downward trend and the cost of electricity (in the US) is trending up at a slower rate than the cost of oil.

So over time Mr. Market, as you said, will push us all into electric cars. Of course, the electric cars 20 years from now will have a performance much better than there contemporaries of today.

I suspect most families will have a pure electric commuter vehicle with 150+ mile range and a bigger plug-in hybrid (SUV/station wagon or pickup truck) with 150+ mile range and a standard smaller gas tank with a 150-200 mile range.

The bigger unknown is what will happen to the long distance transportation industry. Aviation will probably be able to afford the premium of fossil fuels without any drastic changes. But will the large truck industry convert to natural gas or some other fuel source, or will be substantially reduced in size with railroads picking up the slack?

Joseph May 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Steven Usselman’s ”Regulating railroad innovation”piqued my curiosity on the eclipse/relative decline of US railways. For signal appliances and brakes, the better drove out the good (semaphores’ vaccum brakes). In particular, George Westinghouse struck me as the first ‘patent troll’ who hindered the diffusion of enhanced brakes. Admittedly, air brakes outperformed vaccum, but either trumped hand operation.

Ray Lopez May 27, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Something to ponder: airplanes are less fuel efficient than trucks are less fuel efficient than trains (which, due to their steel wheels, inter alia, are the most energy efficient form of transportation, next to a chain-driven motorcycle), yet in the USA people and freight often prefer planes > buses > trains > motorcycles. And sadly, unlike here in southeast Asia, you don’t see people in US cities using motorcycles or scooters to commute, or even Segway / bicycles much. Actually Thailand trumps the Philippines in motorbike use as well. I love riding a manual motorbike and auto scooter here, but would not do it in the states (or even a bicycle) due to inattentive drivers and a culture of speeding reckless cars.

So Much for Subtlety May 27, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Why is this worth pondering? Money buys of a lot of things. Among them is the ability to use more energy-intensive forms of transport if they have any special advantages. Trucks are more flexible than rail – and they don’t have Unions. So people use them if they can afford them. Airplanes are faster.

Also railways are not the most energy efficient form of transport. Canals are. Well, boats are. The railway killed the canals of the West. Trucks are pushing rail out of most things except bulk commodities – America’s railways probably could not survive without coal which is why they lobby so hard against coal slurry pipelines. Thailand’s capital grew because of China trade, and its canal network. But the Thais have largely filled them in because they prefer the flexibility and fun of motorbikes over canal boats.

The main problem with motorbikes remains weather. It will not take long for Thais to abandon them once they can afford to do so. And safety. I would hate to think what Bangkok’s death toll is but I would be prepared to bet it is an order of magnitude higher than any American city of comparable size if I was offered the right odds.

Ray Lopez May 28, 2014 at 2:05 am

Water transport is indeed efficient, and no surprise that every major city, including Beijing (Grand Canals) is near water. Good point about coal, as I recall lots of coal trains feed power plants in the USA. I think you downplay the role of subsidies in car transport in the USA making the car more popular in the USA vs Europe (and contributing to urban sprawl in the USA): lots of US taxes go into maintaining high speed car networks that make biking (both bicycling and motorbiking) dangerous in the USA due to speed (speed kills, ask any German who drives the Autobahn). Note the 3x greater death rate in the USA vs the UK, when the UK is about 33% more poor per capita than the USA, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

Thailand is low on the list due to a variety of factors related to development (poorly maintained cars, as in the PH where they hardly ever even change the oil or maintain car tyre pressure, and bad roads, uneducated drivers, etc). But the USA should be lower on road deaths than they are, compared to say Sweden or the UK.

So Much For Subtlety May 28, 2014 at 5:54 am

Well they had to bring the water to Beijing.

Subsidies in the US is a vexed topic. I am not sure you can make a case that roads are highly subsidized. What causes urban sprawl in the US is the Great Migration of Black people to the North. Although usually that is expressed through some sort of euphemism – good schools for instance. People rarely ride bikes on freeways and maintaining a separate high speed, non-bike, road system may be safer than trying to share.

Does speed kill? Germany’s death rate per billion kilometers is no different to the Netherlands. The US’s is larger, but the distances are much longer allowing tiredness to play a larger role. The US rate is no different to Canada’s. The US rate per 100,000 cars is not exceptional for Europe. It is lower than Belgium’s.

You say Thailand’s problem is related to development. Sure, investing in safer roads makes sense. It saves lives. One day Thailand may be able to afford to do so. But New York’s death rate is about 1,200 a year. Bangkok loses about 320 every single year in a single three-day Buddhist festival. Some of that is not just a matter of wealth, but of competent organization. Uneducated drivers? You mean corrupt licencing officials. Poor engine maintenance? You mean a population that does not understand simple machines. And poor policing.

Like the Philippines, a lot of Thailand’s problems are utterly self-inflicted.

Eric H June 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Er, what?

“…due to inattentive drivers and a culture of speeding reckless cars” – what SMFS said. As I recall, China was once a nation proud of its cycling culture. Now it is a nation proud of its car culture.

“The railway killed the canals of the West.” Well, that and the total lack of water, freezing winters, and the Rocky Mountains.

“Trucks are pushing rail out of most things except bulk commodities” which most things start out as. US rails move something like 38% of all US freight while European rails only move 8-10% of EU freight [1] [2] (and Japan is even worse [3]). So before we put too much into the idea of adding more high speed passenger train service, it might be worth considering that the EU is moving in the opposite direction — getting more freight onto their rails — and it is not going well because they share the same rails and do not play well together. [4]

[1] http://www.hks.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/file/pdfs/centers-programs/centers/taubman/working_papers/fagan_vassallo_05_rail.pdf,
[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20060226022011/http://freight.transportation.org/doc/SCAN_%20Intl%20Freight%20Euro%20Market.pdf
[3] http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/modalspliteuusjapan.html
[4] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_ECA-13-23_en.htm

“What causes urban sprawl in the US is the Great Migration of Black people to the North.” Do you have a reference for that? Because I am having a hard time believing that sprawl in the last two decades has been caused by a phenomenon that largely ended by 1970. Or why previous mass immigrations didn’t cause it.

JWatts May 28, 2014 at 10:15 am

“Note the 3x greater death rate in the USA vs the UK, when the UK is about 33% more poor per capita than the USA, see:”

Why cherry pick the US vs the UK? Canada’s death rate is about the same as the US’s and Spain’s and Belgiums is much worse.

carlospln May 28, 2014 at 3:05 am

“The railway killed the canals of the West”

What canals?

andrew' May 28, 2014 at 5:44 am

See?! Exactly!

JWatts May 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

Yes, I was wondering about those mythical canals also. I’m guessing that maybe he meant that canals were never built in the US West because trains had become available before they could be built. But even without trains, the US west isn’t conducive to a large canal network.

Axa May 28, 2014 at 6:25 am

Ever read about PM10 pollution in southeast Asia?

“On average, a two-stroke motorcycle has a PM (particulate matter) emission rate of the same order of an uncontrolled truck or a bus, a HC emission rate of 5-10 times of an uncontrolled car, and almost the same CO emission rate as an uncontrolled car. Where leaded gasoline is still used, the organic lead emitted with the unburned fuel from two-stroke motorcycles is more toxic than the inorganic lead formed in the combustion.”

Those 2-stroke engines are not good as they seem ;)

Slocum May 28, 2014 at 7:04 am

Actually, no — the U.S. ships a high fraction of its freight by rail at very low cost (less than half that of Europe and Japan). Moving lots of stuff by rail and people mostly by airplane and automobile is a very good solution (especially for a large, low-population density country), and it would be a major mistake to screw it up (by, for example, pouring huge sums into HSR that would carry a small fraction of passengers and make the rail system less useful for freight — as is the case in Europe).

Khao-Tee May 27, 2014 at 11:56 pm

All of the above is true and correct as far as it goes.
In the Bangkok/Chonburi area, when it rains it is a brief shower and highly predictable. Motorcyclists wait it out. If all the motorcycle drivers in BKK and Pattaya switched to cars, no one would ever get anywhere. Motorcycles can go where cars can’t. Very often it is faster to go by riverboat than car, in BKK. Often it is faster to walk, which indeed is most fuel efficient and environmentally preservative form of locomotion, if the cargo is minimal and distance reasonable.

So Much for Subtlety May 28, 2014 at 12:53 am

It is true that Bangkok has a lot of people crammed into a small space. But traffic problems are usually a matter of competent traffic management. As a moderately unfair rule of thumb, the Third World is utterly unable to manage anything. If Thais switched to cars and bothered to manage their traffic properly, it wouldn’t be such a big deal – although moving a lot more people to a subway system would be part of that. Hong Kong’s traffic is not unmanageable.

Walking probably is more efficient and better for the environment. Thais used to do a lot more of this too. They called them Sedan Chairs. It is not hard to see why people do not like the efficient solutions. But perhaps it is time for them to make a come back?

I do think the Thais should not have filled in so many of Bangkok’s canals though.

Ray Lopez May 28, 2014 at 2:14 am

@SMFS – clearly, from your moniker, you are trolling. I doubt you’ve ever even been outside the USA for more than 1 week. If you did, you would broaden your world view, since to a degree your online personal probably reflects your real life biases.

As for your comments about Hong Kong (HK), they support your thesis not just that planning (by a government) is good, but in fact planning beats the mixed free market at moving people when roads are not priced adequately, i.e., subsidized, as in the USA. See this anecdotal evidence about HK being less congested than LA, USA: http://www.city-data.com/forum/asia/1542914-traffic-hong-kong-vs-los-angeles.html And I bet it’s easier to move around in HK than say Tysons Corner, Virginia. Again, the benevolent solution of central planning, compared to the mixed economy sub-optimal solution in the USA. Big Brother loves you.

So Much For Subtlety May 28, 2014 at 5:40 am

Ray, I generally think your posts are a waste of my time, and unfortunately I do not see this is an exception.

Hong Kong’s traffic is not centrally planned. Not unless you mean something radically different from what most people mean by central planning. It is well managed.

Hong Kong has a lower but similar population as Bangkok – 7 million as opposed to 8. Bangkok has about the population of New York. But what is noticeable is that although Hong Kong has a lot of traffic problems, it does not have the problems of Bangkok. It is well managed. Bangkok is not.

Wealth is not the issue. Hong Kong is much richer. Competence is. Central planning is irrelevance and not one of these systems is centrally planned.

JWatts May 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

“when roads are not priced adequately, i.e., subsidized, as in the USA. ”

Subsidized? I’m not sure what you mean by that exactly. If you mean funded indirectly; Is there any country in which all the roads are toll roads? If not, then all countries subsidize their roads.

For the most part, US charges a tax on gasoline and diesel transport fuels and a portion of that money funds the road system. A smaller portion of the road tax is diverted to other forms of transport, such as, biking, walking, mass transit, etc.

I don’t think you really understand the economics of the US transportation network.

JCW May 29, 2014 at 9:19 am

The current gas tax does not provide enough income to fully pay for the upkeep and expansion of the road system in the United States. As a result, some of those costs are paid out of general tax revenues at all three levels–federal, state, and local (depending, obviously on specific location–some governments have unilaterally increased their gas taxes).

So, yes, roads are subsidized in the U.S. by non-users or low users.

Interestingly, this problem is actually being exacerbated by fuel efficiency gains, which allow road users to pay even less tax for their road use, although I suppose you could argue that the reduced air pollution externality costs that those same users stop inflicting might make up for the difference, in a nebulous sort of way.

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