CP+NS and the Humpty Dumpty effect

March 4, 2016

Written by  Frank N. Wilner, Contributing Editor, Railway Age Magazine

The chasing by suitor Canadian Pacific of grand dame Norfolk Southern has reintroduced to the railroad chattering classes the nebulous term “public interest,” used often and broadly when mergers and other railroad maneuvers requiring regulatory approval are afoot.Website Insert New Passenger Train Service copy

That the term is so malleable is owed to Congress, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), its successor Surface Transportation Board (STB), and the Supreme Court. As none has provided a precise definition, we might turn to Humpty Dumpty, who said in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

More than half century ago, ICC Commissioner Rupert L. Murphy termed public interest “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Yet if one robs St. Petersburg to pay St. Paul, the “good” accrues only to the latter; and what if the population of the former is greater?

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