Railroads, the Free Enterprise Alternative

By Daniel L. Overbey | Go to book overview

10 IN THEORY, IN CONGRESS

In the earliest days of railroading the concept of separating carrier and roadway functions was more than just an idea--it was a daily fact of life. Railroads, like turnpikes and canals, were fixed ways only.

Then came the quantum leap in rail technology during the early 1800's. Steel rails and steam locomotives changed the meaning of railroad: originally a road of rails, it later came to include not just the roadway but also the company which operated carrier service over it. This dramatic structural change was not without its opponents. Many recognized the problems inherent in the then-new structure but chose to accept the problems as the price of progress.

Since that time a number of rail industry analysts have conceded the existence of structure-based difficulties. Some even recognized the railroad industry's structure as the root of industry problems. Nearly all, however, stopped short of calling for the needed structural changes.

Congress proved less bashful in this regard. Prompted in part by the demise of the Penn Central, several legislative proposals were introduced which would have altered the industry's structure. Most of the proposals evidenced an incomplete understanding of railroad economics and operations; many tended to rely too heavily on increased public aid and control. Nonetheless, credit must be given to the legislators for daring to enter where academicians feared to tread.


THE RAILROAD: A PUBLIC HIGHWAY

The roadway/carrier separation concept had supporters even during the Golden Age of Railroading. W. D. Dabney wrote Public Regulation of Railways in 1889, a time when railroad companies were the most powerful institutions in America.1 Rather than extoll the virtues of the status quo or rebuke the robber barons as did most writers of the period, Dabney presented a comprehensive argument for the separation concept.

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