Did you know that railroads are the most profitable industry sector in America? No, that’s not a good thing.

By Timothy Noah, The Soapbox

The threat of a paralyzing rail strike was narrowly averted on Thursday through last-minute labor negotiations by the Biden administration. There are many political and economic reasons to feel enormous relief (assuming the accord gets ratified by union rank and file). But it hardly means the nation’s rail system is in good health.

train freight

Before this week, most Americans probably had little idea that they remain so utterly dependent on rail freight; about one-third of all freight in the United States travels by rail. As much as that is, it isn’t enough. To the extent rail freight could be made to displace trucks, that would greatly reduce America’s carbon footprint. Trucks belch out nearly 10 times as many greenhouse emissions per ton-mile as trains.

But rail freight’s market share isn’t expanding; it’s shrinking, and rail service is getting crappier, because the financiers who control the industry expect an obscenely high return on investment. At its heart, that’s what this week’s labor dispute was about. It’s time to think about nationalizing rail freight.

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