Are freight railroads starting to take passenger trains more seriously?

February 17, 2015

For most of the last half of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st, the apparent prevailing attitude of the large private, primarily freight-carrying railroads towards passenger trains was to treat them as a necessary nuisance and a hindrance to efficient, fluid freight movement. But there are signs that senior management at the Class I’s are starting to take passenger trains more seriously, and look to passenger train operators and the government agencies that sponsor passenger trains as potential partners rather than adversaries…

In his keynote address before Railway Age’s Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference in October, Norfolk Southern President James A. Squires reversed the conference’s theme and spoke of freight trains operating on passenger railroads.

Squires noted that NS relies on access to tracks owned by Amtrak and commuter authorities to reach customers that provide more than $1 billion in revenue annually. He called for using this as a model for “being creative about how we wring the most use out of our networks.” He also seemed to welcome the idea of expanded passenger services continuing to share facilities with freight trains…

Sharing infrastructure between passenger and freight trains is not without its challenges. However, the fact that shared use has been the rule rather than the exception worldwide since the dawn of railroads speaks to the cost-effectiveness inherent in not having to maintain duplicate sets of infrastructure in order to fully separate freight from passenger operations. Dedicated passenger-only infrastructure is required for world-class high speed rail, where trains traveling over 125 mph require sealed corridors meeting designed criteria that are not conducive to slow, heavy freight trains. But high speed rail will not serve the majority of the passenger rail market. Commuter trains, regional feeder trains, and long-distance passenger trains will continue to operate at more conventional speeds, and shared-use railroads are the most optimal way to accommodate them…

Read the rest of the story in a TRAINS Magazine article by Malcolm Kenton, 3 February 2015

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