19th Century Transportation in a 21st Century World

Train I ride, sixteen coaches long.

WaPo (“Miles-long trains are blocking first responders when every minute counts“):

A man suffered a stroke but a stopped train blocked paramedics from reaching him for over an hour. A senior in a nearby retirement community missed his oncologist appointment because another train obstructed that same intersection. A fire crew could not get to a house engulfed in flames until another train eventually cleared the crossing.

For decades, those living along Glover Road in Leggett, Tex. — a rural community with fewer than 150 residents about 80 miles from Houston — wrote letters, sent emails and called authorities pleading that trains stop blocking the neighborhood’s sole point of entry and exit for hours. Some residents and a county judge sent letters addressed to the railroad company, warning of a “greater catastrophe,” including a toxic train disaster.

“Should there be a derailment … we would be dead ducks, having no evacuating route,” Pete Glover, the man whom the street is named after, wrote in a 1992 letter to the railway company. “If some home caught afire,” he added. there’d be “no way for firetrucks to serve them.”

To many in the community, their worst fears were realized in 2021, when baby K’Twon Franklin died. His mother, Monica Franklin, had found the 3-month-old unresponsive in her bed the morning of Sept. 30, and called 911.

Paramedics responded, but a Union Pacific train blocked their path on Glover Road, according to Franklin and a local police report. It took more than 30 minutes for them to carry K’Twon into an ambulance. Two days later, the baby died at a hospital in Houston. “Unfortunately, the delay has cost my child’s life,” Franklin, 34, told The Washington Post.

As a rule, I’m not a fan of the anecdote-driven lede. While emotionally compelling, the degree to which they’re generalizable is often suspect. Still, they can powerfully illustrate a point, as they do here.

I’ve long been befuddled that we continue to rely so heavily on technology from the 1800s, now into the 2100s and, particularly, that we’ve done so little to ameliorate the intersection between those worlds. It’s weird enough to stop traffic for minutes as trains roll by, necessarily taking the right-of-way on roads without over- or under-passes. It’s just outrageous to block roads for hours on end as trains unload.

Stranger still, the problem is actually getting worse rather than better.

Over the past decade, rail corporations have been running more lengthy freight trains — some as long as three miles — partly to save fuel and labor costs. As they do, they are blocking rural and urban intersections, stoking anger and contributing to tragedies and calamities.

Much of the nation’s focus has been on a long Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, in February, sparking a toxic fireball and prompting state and federal investigations. But while Congress has shown some renewed concern about rail safety, there has been little focus on an everyday safety threat — long trains blocking first responders from getting to emergencies.

It is happening across the country. In Tennessee, a man died of a medical emergency after an ambulance crew was held up at a train crossing. In Oklahoma, a man perished from a heart attack after first responders were stuck behind a train at the only entrance to their street.

Since 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has operated a digital portal where citizens can report obstructions caused by trains. So far this year, there have been more than 1,400 reports of first responders blocked by trains. There have also been documented cases of frustrated pedestrians crawling under stopped trains, only to be injured or killed when the train starts moving.

Now, I suppose we could argue that 1400 incidents over a span of 3-plus years in a continental country with 330 million citizens is a relatively minor problem. But we’re essentially bearing this cost for the benefit of a handful of companies.

Schools superintendent Jana Lowe is one of several local leaders and residents who have been writing and calling Union Pacific for years, warning that obstructions at the Glover Road crossing — such as school buses delayed for hours — could lead to something more horrific.

“I fairly believe that this cost a child’s life, that they weren’t able to get there on time,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. It could have been avoided.”

In his 25 years as a locomotive engineer, Eddie Hall saw his trains grow longer and longer. He can recall when they were just over a mile in length. Before going on leave last winter, he was driving a three-mile-long Union Pacific train with as much as 18,000 tons of mixed freight on his regular Tucson-to-El Paso route.

He has seen his line of freight cars disrupt traffic for hours in small and rural towns, he said adding that in Tucson, trains can block the downtown’s four railroad crossings for as long as an hour.

“Whatever they block, they block,” said Hall, who now leads the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “The carriers really don’t take into consideration how long we sit on rail crossings.”

Trains have mushroomed in length for a simple reason — to save money and generate profits for railway companies and their shareholders. Roughly two decades ago, activist investors started pressuring railway corporations to become more efficient by reducing labor and fuel costs. So railroads adopted an operating model that cut crews and consolidated trains, known as “precision scheduled railroading.” By using longer trains, rail companies are operating fewer shorter trains, increasing fuel efficiencies and decreasing costs and their carbon footprints, industry officials say.

That regulators have permitted this makes no sense. Surely, there should be a maximum amount of time that trains can block an intersection—especially during daytime hours.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. de stijl says:

    For hauling necessary stuff from point A to B for essential industries trains are massively more efficient than trucks. Possibly a full margin better.

    It is far cheaper and much more efficient and much more environmentally friendly to move stuff by train and use terminals to serve relatively short trucking hauls.

    Trains are very much 21st century technology. If you need to move iron ore from mine to refinery you need trains, and in the US, lake freighters like the fabled Edmond Fitzgerald.

    I used to know a woman who worked for CSX and she was on the IT team responsible for routing. That’s a hard nut to crack! You have such constraining limits! And a shit ton of old timers telling them that that is not how it is done. My pappy and his pappy did the Omaha to San Antonio run for decades and the old ways are best.

    Railroads are severely under-regulated as recent events have clearly shown. Trains are understaffed and are a rolling health hazard barreling by fairly near to where you live.

    Re-routing around towns and cities by building new track is basically a no-go. Our rail network is our rail network absent a major overhaul of property rights law that will not happen today. We have what we have.

    We need to manage it better, obviously. And a lot of that is better governmental oversight and regulation.

    I had never thought about the problem of emergency services. Holy crap! That’s awful.

  2. JKB says:

    Wait, it is all the railroad’s fault for having to meet the carbon reduction goals and crew workhours set by the government all-knowing “experts”? Yes, this is a problem but it is a problem created by government regulations and simple-minded activists. How many of these longer trains are moving oil that could have been in a pipeline if it hadn’t been cancelled by Biden or some governor for political reasons?

    And are the trains really longer than in the past. Back in the ’70s I’ve sat for quite a while as a number of coal trains went by. Or have the road crossing and “other side of the tracks” development exploded. And when road is put in, does the government require an over/under pass or do they approve a at-grade crossing?

    Where you are likely to run into trouble west of the Mississippi, is that the railroads were granted very wide swaths of land by Congress for development of the railroads, which dominated long distance travel until the 1940s.

    Our legislators have been blind to the lessons of history, or have been corrupt. They have been ignorant of the political and social laws, or they have been wanting in rectitude. In the period of thirty years, ended in 1880, Congress gave to railway corporations over 240,000 square miles, or 154, 067, 553 acres, of the best public lands in the States and Territories of the Union – an area double that of the whole kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, including the adjacent isles.

    On the 17th of March, 1883, the Chicago Daily Tribune published a history of these land grants compiled by Mr. Henry D. Lloyd, under the following summary:
    “The story of the dissipation of our great national inheritance- thrown away by Congress, wasted by the Land Office, stolen by thieves. A land monopoly worse than that of England, begotten in America. English monopoly is in families; American monopoly is in corporations; and corporations are the only aristocrats that have no souls, and never die.”

  3. de stijl says:


    The government does not set staffing requirements on railroads. That isn’t even a strawman – you’re just making shit up that doesn’t exist. Imaginary shit does not prove your point.

    And I am completely unaware of carbon regulations placed on rail companies. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Where does the responsibility for externalities lie? On the entity that caused it, or on the people (i.e., the government)?

    My answer is that is the responsibility of the entity that caused it.

    What if you were on the other side of the tracks having a heart attack desperately gasping for breath that won’t come and there is an ambulance 40 feet away that cannot get to you because a train is in the way? Would you argue the same? Is your death and many others the price we must pay?

    Maybe we could prevent those unnecessary deaths with an over- or under-pass funded by rail companies if they can’t figure out a way to allow emergency vehicles free movement in their town.

    Externalities. Look it up.

  4. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl: Quite spot on. Modern inter-modal transport and rail are hardly 19th century (indeed were it still 19th century the mega trains would be quite impossible). Computer coordinated and planned supply chain and dispatching has enormous effiiciences and particularly for scale transport.

    The issue of lack of local infastructure – overpass, underpass or whatever is appropriate to the location is an issue in underinvestment in infrastructure, which is a painful transversal issues in USA land across multiple areas (elec grid both medium and long-distance scale, non-highway infra)

    Which itself seems to arrive from a perverse combination of private sector short-term quarterly results driven focus being excessively predominant (excessively predemoninate is not to say having no place), and the insidious effects of your political gridlock and the bizarre inverted photo-negative Bolshevism on the Right in the USA with the poor masquerade of being market oriented but not really: that is primacy of party political ideology over real market founded pragmatism including openness to government intervention with a market orientation as during USA heyday was perfectly normal…

    A heavy engagement on both electric grid and intermodal commercial infrastructure upgrading including rail modernisation would bring enormous benefits to USA common market, including clealry to industry for supply chain efficiencies.

    @JKB: you really are a dimwitted Right-Wing Bolshevik equivalent, capable only of parodic parroting of party-political approved propaganda points…

    Of course carbon objectives have f-all to do with the market forces incentivising mega trains – and the shallow and dim-witted pretence there is pathetic.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Railroads should indeed be better regulated. What we’re talking about here are externalities. The RRs make more money with longer trains. Much of the cost falls on others. Eliminating externalities is a legit reason for regulation. Or taxes.

    But governments build roads to accommodate new housing or commercial development routinely. Many of these issues could be addressed with overpasses, underpasses, or additional surface level crossings. Or helicopters. But I suspect most of these access issues affect poor neighborhoods in poor jurisdictions.

  6. de stijl says:


    It brings a new meaning to “wrong side of the tracks”.

  7. Lounsbury says:

    @gVOR08: Large scale trains are more efficient on multiple fronts including relative to carbon emissions (for reasons similar to why haulage in fewer larger vehicles is more energy efficient than many small ones). Ultimately more economical.

    Rather than knee jerking in a direction of ‘regulating’ (although very typically Left) there is more better a response to upgrade and enable intermodal – including such infrastructure as useful that energy-economies of scale in transport don’t unduly negatively impact such communities (as such relatively simple constructions as over and underpass construction to deconflict local passage and heavy train usage.

    Such public infrastructure spending by government or in PPP is eminently sensible and in the end win-win normally.

    @de stijl: I do not think in fact there are any carbon regulations or the like that apply directly to freight haulage by rail, rather doubtful he actually knows of any, and was not merely repeating in brainless fashion some idiotic Fox News talking heads bald assertions as dezinformatsia agitprop for the party faithful to repeat until Pravda-Fox emits new party thinking to repeat without any critical second thought.

    Paying for infra – as indeed a market externality – would rationally be something to bundle with surchages but perhaps equally the US Federal government could consider some support in return for investment in decarbonising freight (as uprades in capacity, expansion of electric or other decarbonising)

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Lounsbury: I agree that building overpasses and the like would alleviate many of these issues. It’s not clear why the taxpayers should be on the hook for the costs, which are externalities flowing from private commercial conduct.

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: I suppose it rather depends on the terms of the rights-of-way in place and where legal responsabilities reside. Local consituency responsability for local infra is very typical, but leaving the legal aside, it makes great sense to incentivise upgrades as more rail freight haulage at more efficient pricing is both economic and climate good.

  10. Lounsbury says:

    Otherwise out of curousity a simple search rather suggests there is no current mandates in re decarbonisation relevant, to no surprise. Otherwise an interesting article on decarbonisation/electrification for USA re locomotives. It could be noted that enriched ammonia fuel as diesel replacement is quite plausible (with green generation of ammoniac fuel quite plausible although requiring significant investment for scaled production).

  11. Sleeping Dog says:
  12. Sleeping Dog says:


    Pretty much railroad rights of way are sacrosanct in the US, only the feds have the power to force them to do something in the boundaries of the RoW. Even if a community wanted to build an overpass, the RR could veto the project.

    Besides if the RR and community agreed to take an action, some other group would appear to oppose. See CA efforts to build high speed rail, or MN project for light rail along the SW corridor.

  13. just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: And being the kind of person I am, I’d like to note that the train tracks probably predate most if not all of the community by several generations. (And no, that IS, in fact, one of the original implications of “born on the wrong side of the tracks.”) Complaining that you moved to a community separated from services by a commercial common carrier fright line is in the same category as people who built in flight path of the airport and complain about the noise from the planes.

  14. de stijl says:


    Rail company self regulation is working well?

  15. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    Trains are very much 21st century technology. If you need to move iron ore from mine to refinery you need trains

    I got pig iron, pig iron, I got all pig iron!

    This will be stuck in my head all day, so I thought I would try getting it stuck in everyone else’s. It’s a nice earworm.

    @just nutha ignint cracker:

    Complaining that you moved to a community separated from services by a commercial common carrier fright line is in the same category as people who built in flight path of the airport and complain about the noise from the planes.

    When the trains triple in length after you move there, it changes the equation.

  16. de stijl says:

    @just nutha ignint cracker:


    If you are taxed as part of the community you are due appropriate services from that community. It is not the same category.

    There is a big HUUUGE difference between kvetching about airport noise and the inability to be served by emergency response that might save your life if they can get there promptly.

    Taxation without ambulance service might be up there with taxation without representation. We are only going to guarantee emergency response to these specific neighborhoods is unacceptable. If you are poor, you’re basically fucked.

    Is there a tax differential on the wrong side of the tracks? Poor people should just suck it up and die quietly? What are you stating?

    Your house is on fire. You’re having a heart attack. Emergency response cannot get there. Is that not a problem that should be rectified?

  17. de stijl says:


    For me it’s Sault Ste. Marie by Joe Henry. Not a mining town, not a refining town, just the chokepoint you need to transit to get from Duluth to Cleveland or the reverse. Been hearing that in my head all day.

    Short Man’s Room is a stunning Americana album. The Jayhawks were the studio band for it.

    I did a circumnavigation once around Lake Superior for fun or for the life experience. A great road trip! It took longer than I anticipated by several days.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: I’m not sure it does. As long as I can remember, and I grew up between the railroad and downtown Seattle (and on the wrong side of the West Seattle (draw) Bridge, to boot), a rail crossing halt involved 15 or 20 minutes of delay. And I turn 71 in a month.

    But as I also noted at the start of my comment, this is who I am as a person. Just as I owned extreme NPD related to Ozark’s reply a few days back, I’m willing to own my misanthropy in this case, to.
    @de stijl:

    Your house is on fire. You’re having a heart attack. Emergency response cannot get there. Is that not a problem that should be rectified?

    While I agree, the solution is to have services on both sides of the freight line. If I move somewhere without asking myself “what will happen if my house catches on fire,” that’s not on the railroad. (With the same acknowledgement of misanthropy as above.)

  19. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You are arguing for disparate treatment.

    Taxes. Services.

    If you take the tax you owe the service.

  20. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl: sorry, what? I haven’t made any comment direct or indirect on the subjet.

    @Sleeping Dog: the overdone ability of a million and one “stakeholders” parties to block infrastructure in the USA via a thicket of lawsuits is a reason why one must have a degree of doubt on the green objectives as permitting and this sort of foolishness bogging down any infrastructure in USA is infamous and real risk.
    However the Calfornia nonsensical rail project is itself an economically nonsensical mess

  21. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    So far this year, there have been more than 1,400 reports of first responders blocked by trains. There have also been documented cases of frustrated pedestrians crawling under stopped trains, only to be injured or killed when the train starts moving.

    Now, I suppose we could argue that 1400 incidents over a span of 3-plus years in a continental country with 330 million citizens is a relatively minor problem. But we’re essentially bearing this cost for the benefit of a handful of companies.

    Not a big deal, but I bolded some important text from the piece you quoted.

  22. JohnSF says:

    Not quite on topic, but close enough for me:

    France bans short-haul domestic flights in favour of train travel

    As Lounsbury has pointed out, rail is far more efficient for bulk transport that road, never mind air.
    And also far more efficient for bulk commuter passenger transport.
    And for intermediate distance transport? 350 mph nuclear powered trains, baby!
    (OK, indirectly nuclear powered, but who cares?)

    Of course, water transport is even more efficient.
    But probably not so useful for passengers; unless you live in Venice, of course.

    Interestingly, in the UK, the trajectory seems to be back towards a single national publicly owned rail system, with private contractors relegated to the role of service provision.

  23. Kurtz says:


    sorry, what? I haven’t made any comment direct or indirect on the subjet.

    I mean, you kinda did, my dude.

    Rather than knee jerking in a direction of ‘regulating’

    I suppose that self-regulation doesn’t exist because other people exist. But assuming that regulation is a unidirectional constraint is much like the lay understanding that risk is inherently negative. But I don’t think that’s what you meant.

    The issue here is that infrastructure for essential services being built out for the benefit of a private entity is seen by many to be a subsidy.

    As a general matter, I think this is a pattern in your commentary here. This case is a little more straightforward, even if you assert otherwise. It seems you may not do a great job anticipating how people will read your argument. I’ve put it to you more bluntly before: it appears you do not fully grasp the implications of your views. And you certainly show a shallow understanding of the Left.

    There is a diversity of experience here. It shouldn’t be a surprise that OTB degens are likely to make connections that had not occurred to you. Very few simple statements exist. The rest have a lot of unstated relationships. They are dependent on other statements that may be unexamined by the speaker.

  24. Kurtz says:


    Oh, be fair, John. He isn’t the only one who pointed this out.

    It’s nice to know the direction that the UK is going. But we patriots don’t want to do the things that you do, no matter how sensical those things are. You see, we take the blood of our Forefathers seriously, and we will be damned before we turn our backs on their sacrifice.

  25. just nutha says:

    @de stijl: so complain to the city. But don’t live on the side of a railroad crossing with no services if you want unrestricted access to them.

  26. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Yes, the underlying issue goes back to when the gummit gave the barons control of de land around de dang tracks (see westward ho!)…

    But since before I was born, if you were on the wrong side of the tracks, you didn’t get police, fire, or rescue, and even if you did, the hospital on the good side of town wasn’t going to treat you. The advent of care for poor/other (euphemism inserted here) is a very recent construct in America.

  27. Flat Earth Luddite says:


    … the trajectory seems to be back towards a single national publicly owned rail system, with private contractors relegated to the role of service provision

    Good luck clawing back ownership from the robber barons of commerce, dude!

  28. JohnSF says:

    UK is really behind the curve on this. The privatized railcos are descending into utter dysfunction
    One of the things that is contributing to the Conservatives cratering in the polls.

    By and large, the rest of Europe seems to be managing better. Perhaps because their right-of centre parties are rather more pragmatic.

  29. Andy says:

    Trains are getting longer because there is more stuff to haul, and the number of rail lines hasn’t grown. The existing rail lines and rights-of-way are almost all very old. You can ask California how easy it is to make new lines and rights-of-way.

    So I’m not sure the responsibility for the problem identified in the article rests entirely with the railroads. While it’s true that trains have gotten longer, communities also developed and grew around the lines and made zoning and urban planning decisions about crossing and where services should be location – all of which have also been a factor in creating this problem. It seems to me the feds could provide money to ensure there are a sufficient number of crossings that can’t be blocked and let affected communities and the railroads figure out the details. Or, move the lines or add the infrastructure necessary such that blockages are not lengthy.

    Fundamentally, rail transport is very important and much cheaper, more efficient, and greener than the alternative – trucks. We ought to encourage more rail transport, not less, for those reasons. More rail transport will require more rails which is about impossible in the current regulatory and NIMBY environment. Promoting safe and effective rail transport will probably require systemic regulatory reforms and not hand-wavey calls to add more regulations that promise to fix the sorts of problems identified in this article.

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @gVOR08:..Many of these issues could be addressed with overpasses, underpasses, or additional surface level crossings.

    Good Luck With That
    The city of Carbondale, Illinois has been split down the middle by the railroad that runs from Chicago to New Orleans since the first Illinois Central train (the Main Line of Mid-America) arrived in town on July 4, 1854. So the story goes.
    There have always been 6 at grade crossings at city streets including two that carry east-west traffic in the center of town on a major Illinois State Highway in the region. The tracks also split the Campus of Southern Illinois University.
    For as long as I have lived here the city Fire Department has always had at least two Fire Stations. One on each side of the tracks.
    Other than that when the train came through town (many times a day) traffic had to wait.
    As early as the ’60s the city and the state explored alternatives to do something about the railroad.

    The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973 created the Rail-Highway Crossing Demonstration Project and included Carbondale as one of 12 cities to study the feasibility of eliminating rail-highway conflicts in urban areas. The Act created the Carbondale Railroad Relocation Project that was funded 95% by the Federal Highway Administration and the local 5% shared locally by the City of Carbondale, Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Central Railroad, and Southern Illinois University.
    In 1978, following environmental and location studies, the Carbondale Railroad Relocation Project chose the Rail Depression as the preferred alternative for relocating the railroad tracks. The Rail Depression would consist of a (one mile+ long) 30 feet deep open cut lowering the railroad tracks through the city. source

    Informally it was called The Big Ditch.
    The 6 existing at grade crossings would span the ditch and the train would run below. A great idea!

    The Carbondale Railroad Relocation Project was successful in completing the engineering design for the Rail Depression. However, the cost estimate for the Rail Depression exceeded $70 million. By the mid 1980s, Congressional support for demonstration projects had dwindled and it became obvious that federal funding for the Rail Depression could not be obtained.

    After years of planning and the start of some construction and who knows how much money spent the whole thing was called off.
    There is an underpass in the center of town now but the 6 at grade crossings remain. Whenever the train approaches everyone heads for the underpass. I have found that it takes about the same amount of time to just wait for the train to clear as it does to drive to the underpass to get to the other side of town. Progress.
    At least there is a place for an ambulance to get from one side of town to the other when the train is blocking the tracks.

  31. JohnSF says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:
    Ironically, the Tories have been progressively re-nationalising the railways.
    Because ideology is all fine and dandy; but howling mad Conservative swing-seat commuters tend to concentrate the minds of MP’s.

  32. de stijl says:

    @just nutha:

    Then don’t tax them.

    Your solution seems to be “Screw you, suckers! You knew what you signed up for.”

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    I typed “railroad engineer gets ticket for blocking crossing” into Google. Got this and some other items.


  34. Kurtz says:


    That makes it so much worse. It’s one thing if the UK is doing something prudent. We patriots may not want to be our parent. But we definitely don’t want to be some distant cousin who speaks a bunch of different languages, acts all superior because they learn from their mistakes, and tries to do better than they did yesterday.

    We may say we adhere to our distant cousin’s tradition of thought, but we really just do it when it’s convenient for us. Because the only reason they get to live the decent life and have time to consider life is because we pay for the big ass guns and go hunt the monsters out there.

    Sheesh, how dare you suggest we would want to be like our heritage even though we say we are trying to reserve it all the time?

    (Hopefully, my sarcasm is clear.)

  35. Richard Gardner says:

    I have slightly more than a layman’s knowledge of the world of US railroads (no expert) but I’m seeing lots of ignorance spouted here (I agree with de stijl, JohnSF, Lounsberry). I first learned that railroads operate in an arcane (as in 1880s) world when I met a co-workers husband in Omaha (UP HQ) who was a lawyer specializing in railroad injuries and pensions, plus a neighbor who was a shift supervisor at the UP Dispatch Center (high stress job). A couple of key things to remember about railroads:
    – They are mostly only under Federal jurisdiction as Interstate Commerce (long list of Court cases, settled law)
    – They have exceptions to many things, like Social Security, State Workman’s Comp – because they have their own system that predate them.
    – They are primarily real estate companies that also happen to haul freight. Their Right-of-Way (ROW) is a direct path between major cities. Many utilities rent an easement, oil, gas, and most of the long haul fibre optic lines (example – Northern VA, many of the AWS server farms back onto the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Trail – railroad still controls the underground utilities – open secret that a backhoe across this trail would cause internet chaos (cough, monitored – and backups have been installed recently) – RR still controls below the surface).
    – Freight train crews are only certified (licenced?) in their local area, maybe 400 miles. They do not do transcontinental journeys (not talking Amtrak) – so talk about crews not knowing the conditions are bogus.

    On the length of trains, 25 years ago it was about 1 mile (117 cars or so) . Today we have trains that are up to 3x as long. If one is on a siding waiting for another to pass, that passing train takes 3x to pass, then the stopped train slowly starts moving (not going into the coupling whiplash issue, increases the time it takes to get going) – really, the delay today is roughly 10x what it was 20 years ago for 2 long trains (assuming the train on the siding starts moving). This is something new. I think Propublica did an article on this recently.
    And I should mention that BNSF is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet, a Democrat).

    I’ve been minorly involved in some railroad easement discussions in the past few years. The Rail lawyers hold the upper hand, operating in a world few understand (a dozen years ago someone in my car club was involved in a train accident – I immediately said don’t waste your money on a local lawyer, get a railroad attorney at a rail hub that knows this stuff, vice your local lawyer that had one hour at law school, and probably slept through it – the rail lawyer said forget it, unmarked crossing (their driveway), you are at fault, period – make a case, they will revoke your easement across the tracks to get to your house – it is their land – maybe 1 train/week on the line, but that train was worth 20x their house (guess)).

  36. Lounsbury says:

    @Kurtz: No, I most certainly did not comment on self-regulation, although how the fuzzy minded hard Left contingent draws out that comment into extrapolating to entirely a different matter is not a surprise.

    The comment was with respect to knee jerking to a regulatory response, evidently knee-jerking to constrain train-lengths bureaucratically, (which says nothing about current state of regulation nor “self-regulation”). Other potential paths, of which as I evoked, surcharges or similar to pay for enabling infrastructure.

    Only if one’s mental universe is an improverished ideological tunnel should one think this is a comment on “self-regulation” – rather it is a comment on knee-jerking to a regulatory response as such whereas a number of other factors and responses may recommend (as expansive infrastructure upgrades where statistically, rather than anectdotally there is a real issue) and in fact relative to the subject of carbon efficiency in logistics (as in less carbon emitting per mile and ton of freight), do recommend.

    Whether “self-regulation” (however defined in a properly clear manner) is an issue for USA or not is quite another subject, factually as well as analytically. A comment contra knee-jerking to regulation is not a comment that all or even most regulation is bad, etc. It is a comment to a specific. Blind ideological response either pro or contra to regulation just because “regulation good/bad in my tribe view” is boring, stupid and impoverished thinking.

  37. James Joyner says:

    @just nutha ignint cracker: While you make a good point, I’m in agreement with de stijl on this one. It’s fair to say that the railroad tracks have been in place for a very long time and that those who choose to buy/rent homes on “the wrong side” of them should expect some inconveniences—which are likely priced into the cost of said homes. When I was searching for my first house, I chose not to buy one that was close enough to the tracks that I could hear the whistle during the daytime, extrapolating that to the interruption at nighttime.

    At the same time, people are owed government services that they’re paying for. Either the rental/purchase agreement should be quite explicit that living in this place means you don’t get government services X, Y, or Z or the zoning restrictions should preclude residential properties being built there. And, if the former, “screw you, you don’t get 9-1-1 services” simply can’t be part of the bargain.

  38. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I agree that building overpasses and the like would alleviate many of these issues. It’s not clear why the taxpayers should be on the hook for the costs, which are externalities flowing from private commercial conduct.

    You can’t possibly really believe that railway right of way is not a public good. You can’t have the benefits of infrastructure without compensating for the costs.

  39. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: The railways are and always have been private goods: someone owns them and extracts profits from them to the exclusion of others.

    Does the public benefit from trains hauling freight? Sure. We benefit from trucks hauling freight, too. But we charge trucking companies substantial taxes for the extra damage they do to the roads.

    Shopping malls and business parks benefit the public. But we tend to require those building them to pay for access roads, parking, and the like to mitigate externalities.