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If there were no railroads, would it make sense to build them today?


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#1 railiner

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Posted 16 June 2018 - 11:14 AM

Let's suppose just for a moment, there were no railroads.   

Based on today's economy, would it make sense to build them today?   For freight?   For passenger's?

 

Or would it be better to build additional highways, some dedicated to freight movement, other's to passenger?

 

All other modes, air, water, would be as is, in this consideration.....


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#2 cpotisch

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Posted 16 June 2018 - 04:41 PM

In this scenario, have railroads been invented yet? Or is this like if the rest of the world has rail and the US doesn't? If rail technology in this hypothetical situation, has yet to be developed, then I would say that it would not make sense in this day and age. But it really is hard to figure this all out because society be so much different without passenger rail. Most likely we would have more busses for short distances, and more airports for traveling longer distances. In other words, I don't think that it would make sense to build railroads in a world without trains, since a world without trains probably wouldn't need them. Forgive my if I misunderstood but that's my take on it.


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#3 Anderson

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Posted 16 June 2018 - 06:38 PM

Presuming that railroads were extant (or at least, the technology was not "new art"), it would make sense in two general situations:
-Bulk commodities
-High-capacity passenger transport

This doesn't mean that every railroad ever built would make sense (more than a few never did make sense), but a good number would still be justified.

Of course, turning that question around to expressways and airports is also a fun question (especially if you're looking at building one or the other in a situation where none of the above exist).


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#4 railiner

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Posted 17 June 2018 - 02:01 AM

Yes...to clarify my scenario...say railroad technology existed, but for some unknown reason, they all were abandoned after WWII in North America...

And yes, the other scenario would be interesting as well.  

And...you could probably wonder what the world would be like if computer's and internet, or any other technology were not here...

 

But for this, I would just like to limit the opinion's on railroads...would it pay to build them with today's available technology, both for freight or passenger use, together or separately.

With a clean sheet, just think about what super-railroads with very wide gauges, and modern engineering could be built....


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#5 cpotisch

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Posted 17 June 2018 - 06:14 AM

Yes...to clarify my scenario...say railroad technology existed, but for some unknown reason, they all were abandoned after WWII in North America...

And yes, the other scenario would be interesting as well.  

And...you could probably wonder what the world would be like if computer's and internet, or any other technology were not here...

 

But for this, I would just like to limit the opinion's on railroads...would it pay to build them with today's available technology, both for freight or passenger use, together or separately.

With a clean sheet, just think about what super-railroads with very wide gauges, and modern engineering could be built....

I think that it could make sense for freight railroads, since freight trains haul such massive amounts of cargo. However I don't think that it would make sense to construct passenger rail, given all the mass transit alternatives, and the extensive number of destinations needed for a service to make sense.


Edited by cpotisch, 17 June 2018 - 06:14 AM.

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#6 Seaboard92

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Posted 17 June 2018 - 08:31 AM

I think freight railroads for sure because no other mode can haul the tonnage that they haul. While I think it would be a different style then what you see now. It would be almost 100 percent unit trains.

The question I wish someone would ask is should we rebuild the Pacific Extension.
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#7 railiner

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Posted 17 June 2018 - 10:47 AM

Could you explain that a bit further?   As in the Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension, or like a dream road, up through Alaska to Siberia?

Oh, sorry...I missed the "re" in rebuild... :)


Edited by railiner, 17 June 2018 - 10:49 AM.

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#8 Seaboard92

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Posted 17 June 2018 - 03:23 PM

Could you explain that a bit further?   As in the Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension, or like a dream road, up through Alaska to Siberia?
Oh, sorry...I missed the "re" in rebuild... :)

The Milwaukee Road's pacific extension.

I actually could see a business case for reopening the route. Namely the closest port to The Orient is Seattle. And all four routes east are at capacity

Edited by Seaboard92, 17 June 2018 - 03:24 PM.

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#9 cirdan

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Posted 18 June 2018 - 02:13 AM

In this scenario, have railroads been invented yet? Or is this like if the rest of the world has rail and the US doesn't? If rail technology in this hypothetical situation, has yet to be developed, then I would say that it would not make sense in this day and age. But it really is hard to figure this all out because society be so much different without passenger rail. Most likely we would have more busses for short distances, and more airports for traveling longer distances. In other words, I don't think that it would make sense to build railroads in a world without trains, since a world without trains probably wouldn't need them. Forgive my if I misunderstood but that's my take on it.

 

There are countries, for example in Africa, that either never had railroads, or did have them but shut them down long ago (in some cases as a result of wars) or maybe have some residual system seeing only feeble usage because of underinvestment or because it connects the wrong places..

 

In some cases, such countrties are interested in introducing or bringing back railroads, and Chinese investors are making that possible. 



#10 cirdan

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Posted 18 June 2018 - 02:19 AM

 

Yes...to clarify my scenario...say railroad technology existed, but for some unknown reason, they all were abandoned after WWII in North America...

And yes, the other scenario would be interesting as well.  

And...you could probably wonder what the world would be like if computer's and internet, or any other technology were not here...

 

But for this, I would just like to limit the opinion's on railroads...would it pay to build them with today's available technology, both for freight or passenger use, together or separately.

With a clean sheet, just think about what super-railroads with very wide gauges, and modern engineering could be built....

I think that it could make sense for freight railroads, since freight trains haul such massive amounts of cargo. However I don't think that it would make sense to construct passenger rail, given all the mass transit alternatives, and the extensive number of destinations needed for a service to make sense.

 

 

What is the advantage of railroads in bulk freight?

 

I always assumed the main advantage was in staffing costs. If you put freight on trucks you need a driver on every truck. On a train, a smaller number of people can move a far larger load.

 

But will self-driving trucks disrupt that?

 

If self-driving trucks become commoditized, which I assume that at some point they will, which traffic will railroads lose and which traffic can they cling onto.

 

I think intermodal might be at risk because trucks don't need to wait for a schjedule but can just start the journey as soon as they are ready to go.

 

Coal and minerals and things may stay with the railroads because schedules and speed are less important. But is that enough for the railroads to survive on?


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#11 Seaboard92

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Posted 18 June 2018 - 07:17 AM

Railroads are excellent for carrying large amounts of product rapidly. And remember you can load a rail car much heavier than you can load a truck. Self driving trucks will probably harm the industry but I'm not super afraid of them.
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#12 cpotisch

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Posted 18 June 2018 - 08:05 AM

What is the advantage of railroads in bulk freight?

 

I always assumed the main advantage was in staffing costs. If you put freight on trucks you need a driver on every truck. On a train, a smaller number of people can move a far larger load.

 

But will self-driving trucks disrupt that?

 

If self-driving trucks become commoditized, which I assume that at some point they will, which traffic will railroads lose and which traffic can they cling onto.

 

I think intermodal might be at risk because trucks don't need to wait for a schjedule but can just start the journey as soon as they are ready to go.

 

Coal and minerals and things may stay with the railroads because schedules and speed are less important. But is that enough for the railroads to survive on?

 

Freight trains are hundreds of cars long and much more efficient than trucks. They can be tens of thousands of feet long, so you'd need a hell of a lot of trucks to get even close to the capacity of one freight train. And then you take traffic into account (including the traffic that hundreds of migrating 18-wheelers would cause). My point is, freight trains are by far the cheapest way to haul cargo, whether the alternative is self driving or not.


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#13 JRR

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Posted 01 July 2018 - 05:02 AM

What is the advantage of railroads in bulk freight?
 
I always assumed the main advantage was in staffing costs. If you put freight on trucks you need a driver on every truck. On a train, a smaller number of people can move a far larger load.
 
But will self-driving trucks disrupt that?
 
If self-driving trucks become commoditized, which I assume that at some point they will, which traffic will railroads lose and which traffic can they cling onto.
 
I think intermodal might be at risk because trucks don't need to wait for a schjedule but can just start the journey as soon as they are ready to go.
 
Coal and minerals and things may stay with the railroads because schedules and speed are less important. But is that enough for the railroads to survive on?
 

Freight trains are hundreds of cars long and much more efficient than trucks. They can be tens of thousands of feet long, so you'd need a hell of a lot of trucks to get even close to the capacity of one freight train. And then you take traffic into account (including the traffic that hundreds of migrating 18-wheelers would cause). My point is, freight trains are by far the cheapest way to haul cargo, whether the alternative is self driving or not.

The barges on the rivers are the cheapest way to haul bulk products. Unfortunately, rivers like The Mississippi and the Ohio don’t run everywhere!

#14 railiner

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Posted 01 July 2018 - 11:00 AM

 

In this scenario, have railroads been invented yet? Or is this like if the rest of the world has rail and the US doesn't? If rail technology in this hypothetical situation, has yet to be developed, then I would say that it would not make sense in this day and age. But it really is hard to figure this all out because society be so much different without passenger rail. Most likely we would have more busses for short distances, and more airports for traveling longer distances. In other words, I don't think that it would make sense to build railroads in a world without trains, since a world without trains probably wouldn't need them. Forgive my if I misunderstood but that's my take on it.

 

There are countries, for example in Africa, that either never had railroads, or did have them but shut them down long ago (in some cases as a result of wars) or maybe have some residual system seeing only feeble usage because of underinvestment or because it connects the wrong places..

 

In some cases, such countrties are interested in introducing or bringing back railroads, and Chinese investors are making that possible. 

 

Hey, that's an idea!

Maybe we can get the Chinese to buy and/or invest in Amtrak... :P


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#15 Seaboard92

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Posted 01 July 2018 - 12:06 PM

 

In this scenario, have railroads been invented yet? Or is this like if the rest of the world has rail and the US doesn't? If rail technology in this hypothetical situation, has yet to be developed, then I would say that it would not make sense in this day and age. But it really is hard to figure this all out because society be so much different without passenger rail. Most likely we would have more busses for short distances, and more airports for traveling longer distances. In other words, I don't think that it would make sense to build railroads in a world without trains, since a world without trains probably wouldn't need them. Forgive my if I misunderstood but that's my take on it.

 
There are countries, for example in Africa, that either never had railroads, or did have them but shut them down long ago (in some cases as a result of wars) or maybe have some residual system seeing only feeble usage because of underinvestment or because it connects the wrong places..
 
In some cases, such countrties are interested in introducing or bringing back railroads, and Chinese investors are making that possible. 
 
Hey, that's an idea!
Maybe we can get the Chinese to buy and/or invest in Amtrak... :P

Or to give control of it over to Deutsche Bahn. An equally efficient network and far superior to anything in North America. I would take a fleet of ICE trains and ICs running across America.
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#16 railiner

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Posted 01 July 2018 - 12:32 PM

But I don't think the German's are building new railways across their country like the Chinese are....


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#17 Anderson

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Posted 01 July 2018 - 11:21 PM

The Chinese are also an unusual situation insofar as the long-distance transportation network has basically crashed under the demands of a rising middle class.  The railroads are swamped with passenger traffic quite often, but so are domestic airlines.  China also has publicly-traded expressway companies, IIRC, as well as one or two conventional railroads with significant passenger business on the NYSE.

Then again, China and India are quite literally a world away from the West.


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#18 Seaboard92

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Posted 02 July 2018 - 12:28 AM

But I don't think the German's are building new railways across their country like the Chinese are....


We just opened a new railway from Halle to Erfurt and Erfurt to Bamberg that has shortened some of the München-Berlin ICE trips to slightly under four hours. They aren't building out at the rate of the Chinese but are still actively constructing.
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#19 cirdan

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Posted 02 July 2018 - 04:20 AM

 

But I don't think the German's are building new railways across their country like the Chinese are....


We just opened a new railway from Halle to Erfurt and Erfurt to Bamberg that has shortened some of the München-Berlin ICE trips to slightly under four hours. They aren't building out at the rate of the Chinese but are still actively constructing.

 

 

... and have been ever since the first high speed line opened, I think in the early 1990s. Since then new lines have opened every couple of years. Sometimes even several in one year.

 

But I understand the German government is underwriting much of the risk and debt on that.

 

DB couldn't just come to the USA and do the same using their own money.



#20 railiner

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Posted 02 July 2018 - 07:35 AM

With the Chinese, besides the money, it's their ability to just ramrod thru any project they desire...no 'NIMBY's, no EIS, no obstructionists to contend with....


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