An alert industry observer brought to my attention legislation by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) aimed at revoking the anti-trust exemption the freight rail industry currently enjoys. I don’t want to claim to be an expert on all the ins-and-outs of this but my understanding is that this would be a mistake and that it’s good that Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has switched sides and is now joining Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Frank Lautenberg, and John Thune in opposing this.
One of the reasons the rail situation in the United States has gotten so bad is because of a lot of infighting between the freight rail people and the passenger rail and transit people. More recently, however, the OneRail coalition has come together, which recognizes that rail advocates of all kinds have a great deal in common and can best advance their goals working together. A strong freight rail industry can and should be an important part of America’s transportation network, both because of its own intrinsic benefits (this is a very energy efficient way of moving stuff) and also as part of building a rail system that’s robust enough to also support viable passenger traffic. The fact that rail shipping rates are rising reflects the fact that rail is an appealing option under present conditions. It looks to me like an argument for increasing freight rail capacity not for harsher regulations.