By Maddock Thomas and Adam Barrington, Public Rail Now

July 1, 2024  Popular


The Private Class I Railroads Are Failing Almost Every Constituency In The US.

Between 2010-2020, Class 1 Railroads spent  $196 Billion in buybacks and dividends while jobs were cut, accident rates increased and the delivery of freight cars plummeted.

As America grapples with the everlasting impacts of the derailment in East Palestine, OH., Public Rail Now and Railroad Workers United released their latest report entitled  “Putting America Back on Track: The Case for a 21st Century Public Rail System.” Authored by Maddock Thomas, a Stone Fellow from Brown University and recipient of the North American Rail Shippers Association scholarship, this report presents a compelling argument for transitioning the United States’ rail system to public ownership. Drawing on historical precedent and rigorous analysis, it makes a compelling case for overseeing our rail infrastructure in the same manner as our interstate highways, inland waterways, and airports.

Highlighted in the report are alarming trends such as inadequate staffing, the detrimental impact of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), and the consequences of relentless consolidation. Shockingly, between 2013 and 2022, accidents increased by 28%, while  cutting the number of maintenance workers—those who repair locomotives and freight cars—by nearly 40%. Meanwhile, despite soaring profits, Class 1 railroads have neglected essential investments in infrastructure and workforce, exacerbating service deficiencies. Shippers testified during an STB hearing that “rail service is the worst it has ever been.”

The urgency of transitioning to public ownership is underscored by projections of an 88% increase in freight demand by 2035, with a significant portion of our rail networks already operating at or above capacity. Excluding intermodal container traffic,t he number of carloads shipped by rail has declined by a third since 2000.Yet, instead of prioritizing necessary investments, Class 1s have prioritized stock buybacks and dividends, leaving our nation’s critical infrastructure underfunded. Between 2010 and 2020, Class 1 railroads paid over $196 Billion back to shareholders.

At a time when we need it most, our nation’s rail system is in disarray. Dominated by a small group of giant for-profit companies, it is imperiling the health and safety of workers and communities, providing poor service for customers, abandoning growth and development, and stalling the expansion of passenger rail services,

says Thomas M. Hanna, author of Our Common Wealth: The Return of Public Ownership in the United States.

Putting America Back on Track is an impressive contribution to the debate about the future of rail in the United States, laying out in great detail how and why democratic public ownership is a preferable model for this critical transportation system.

This report not only examines historical successes of publicly owned rail systems but also emphasizes the environmental imperative of rail transport. By shifting freight from trucks to rail, we can substantially reduce carbon emissions and enhance air quality, all while bolstering economic opportunities for the working class.

Moreover, the report proposes practical solutions, including the adoption of Tier 4 and electric locomotives powered by overhead catenary systems, thus minimizing reliance on finite resources and mitigating safety concerns associated with alternative technologies.

Read the full report here:


Public Rail Now is a group of working-class citizens made up of railroaders, scholars, environmentalists and social justice advocates who are educating the public about current railroad issues and proposing solutions for a rail system that operates in the public’s best interests.


PHOTO: New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. Wikipedia.