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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

How would the US be changed or affected if all rail travel and shipping were eliminated?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (21749 points ) March 17th, 2014

Thinking of all the things that move by rail in the US, be it people, cars, chemicals in tanker cars, livestock, coal, containers from ships, etc. if in a fairly short time, 2 to 4 weeks all rails in the US became useless, how would that affect the US? Would ingenuity develop something that was better, would commerce bog down, would it still carry one just with greater effort, or would it collapse, etc.?

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21 Answers

Symbeline's avatar

I’m guessing that if this happened, there would certainly be a significant increase in trucking. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but in the past 50 years, train use has gone down a bit in the Western hemisphere?
I don’t think this would topple commerce. It would hurt, but they’d find a way to get around it.

1TubeGuru's avatar

Many goods would become much more expensive.it is much cheaper to ship a ton of goods via rail than any other means of transportation. the railroads are exempt from from burning ultra low sulphur diesel. they run # 2 red dye fuel oil which is much cheaper.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

It would definitely be a boon for the trucking industry. You would see a lot more commercial cargo shipped by plane as well. Pipeline volume would increase dramatically, if capacity is not maxxed out…

JLeslie's avatar

I think it would be a pretty big deal for a long time until other modes of transportation picked up the slack. Moving goods I guess would be done more by trucking, maybe flights, and maybe people would have to look more local for some goods.

As far as moving people around, I can’t imagine the northeast without train service. Do you know how many people go in and out of just Penn Station and Grand Central every day? I don’t know either, but it has to be a lot. If you include the subway system, there is a huge amount of people underground in the subways in NYC at any given time during the day. The streets would be incredibly crowded if subway travel was eliminated, and the streets are already very congested.

I just moved back to a state that has Amtrak to many cute towns through the state. Fares are very reasonable. I love having that option for travel. I wish we would expand our rail system.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I think it would be a recipe for disaster. Many disasters. Rail is how almost all nuclear waste and other radio acttive materials are shipped and a lot of our most dangerous chemicals. Put these in the hands of an industry such as American trucking, an industry with every built-in economic incentive to drive long hours with little rest on increasingly poor highways through highly populated areas with totally ineffective checks and balances, add to this the increased highway congestion due to the lack of rail service, and you have mass death on wheels.

Cruiser's avatar

The highways would be incredibly congested with semi’s to the point of near constant traffic gridlock and many commodities we buy would suddenly cost a lot more too.

Jaxk's avatar

We would have to depend heavily on transporters. Beam me up Scotty

SQUEEKY2's avatar

You would treat us truck drivers like Gods oh the power we would have,ha,ha,ha!

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@JLeslie Moving goods I guess would be done more by trucking, maybe flights, and maybe people would have to look more local for some goods.
Buying more goods locally might be a plus.

NanoNano's avatar

The bulk of overland shipping in the US is carried about by truck, so in that respect, the effect would be modest.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Here in the Midwest, there are a ton of trains for products like grains & gravel (we have a lot of quarries) to the tune of $19.8 billion in exports in our state alone.

And, of course, a lot of high-paying railroad jobs would be gone. Being centrally located, we’d probably use more trucks and still be okay, but shipping costs would rise dramatically, which in turn goes to the consumers.

http://www.modot.org/othertransportation/freight/documents/Impacts.pdf

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Buying more local would be great! I have a feeling most of us don’t really have a grasp regarding how much isn’t local though, including myself, so it would probably be difficult in the beginning. An adjustment for sure.

NanoNano's avatar

The average spoon or forkful of food on the dinner plate of an American each night has traveled 1,300 miles to get there.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ Would it not be nice to reduce that to 130 miles? ;-P

NanoNano's avatar

Yeah, imagine the pollution reduction. Plus, all those fresh fruits and vegetables would actually taste fresh for a change.

Cruiser's avatar

@KNOWITALL You are correct and just sit at a RR Crossing while a freight train goes by and a lot of cars are full of coal for fueling our coal fired electric generating plants. Shipping coal by truck will easily double the cost of the juice many depend on to keep their internet WiFi connected.

kritiper's avatar

The price of everything would go up since so many trucks would be on the road (bumper to bumper) hauling what trains can do very economically, and burning up vast amounts of diesel fuel doing it.

kritiper's avatar

@1TubeGuru . The color of fuel has to do with taxes paid on it. Red diesel can only be used by trains and maybe some other shipping venue like ships, although ocean-going ships can also burn waste oil. Yellow can only be used by automotive and on-road diesel trucks. Blue fuel can only be used by farmers in their tractors. There may also be green fuel, but maybe it could only be used by the Irish.

NanoNano's avatar

This is how surface transport currently breaks down in the US:

…“freight numbers showing that trucks carried 60.8 percent of the $98.6 billion of freight moved in May 2013 between the United States and its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico. Trucks were followed by rail at 15.1 percent, vessels at 8.6 percent, pipelines at 6.8 percent and air at 3.9 percent”

http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/press_releases/bts036_13

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

That makes trucks carrying 3 times that of rail. 8-P

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