A new study reports that 22 years of deregulation in the rail industry has exacted a heavy toll on America’s heartland with over 400 cities losing access to the national rail network.
There are now some 1,500 U.S. cities with populations in excess of 3,000 without access to the national rail network, the study said. A total of 550 cities have lost service since 1916, more than three-quarters of those losing their railroads since 1973.
Preliminary results of the study were made available.
The man who oversaw the study, Joe Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University, said the news is not as bad as it sounds.
“People think that we’re alleging some sort of huge social crisis, but we’re not. The fact is that a lot of these cities have very little demand for service,” he said.
Final results of the study by the Chaddick Institute, which conducts transportation and infrastructure research, are expected this summer.
Among the larger communities without rail service are two state capitals: Annapolis, Md., and Carson City, Nev. Other cities on the list are Santa Monica, Calif., population 90,000, and Vacaville, Calif., population 80,000.
One event that had serious repercussions throughout the United States, Schwieterman said, was the collapse of the Penn Central Railroad.
“When that was consolidated into Conrail (in 1976), 60 cities saw their service lost,” he said.
Some areas of the country have been hit harder than others, he said. For example, although no service has been lost in Vermont or North Carolina - 12 percent of Iowa’s cities lost service with the demise of the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road railroads.
Schwieterman said that despite the loss of service throughout the country, changes in the transportation industry have kept shippers from being left out in the cold.
“There are lots of intermodal facilities nearby these cities,” he said. “This is not an issue for 90 percent of industrial companies.”
Cities that have lost rail service, however, may want to take steps to make it possible for the railroads to return, or for short-line operators to enter the market.
“Many cities currently have only trivial demand for rail freight service,” he said. “Still, planners in these cities may have good reason to try to retain the option of rail service.”
Some communities have preserved existing track, he said, while others are preserving right-of-ways.