Light at the End of the Tunnel: A TL of the American Railroad

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Andrew Boyd, Jan 24, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Foreward: A Retrospect

    Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    Feb 23, 2018
    The Railroad and What it Stands for in America
    Steve Glischinski for Trains Magazine: March 2019

    In anticipation of the Union Pacific celebrating the Golden Spike Centennial, it's only fair we look at the progress and changes American Railroads enjoyed. The mistakes and hardships they suffered at the hands of competition and burdensome regulations. Then their final prosper as the regulation either became fairer. Or in the case preventing companies from making expansion, went away altogether.

    When we look at America and its transportation habits, the train is not as big a player as the automobile. But it certainly is an iconic role compared to the airplane. Especially after 9/11 made many people wary of air travel, the railroad's seemingly desperate situation ended ever since its roots in the late 1960s.

    But what events of the past exactly allowed the modern railroad scene's success today? For that answer, let's start at the beginning of the Great Depression. When the railroads were struggling, but determined to emerge from the strife triumphant...
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2019
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  2. Swede Tech-priest

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    You have my attention. I take is the POD is after 1900, but when? the late 1960s? or earlier?
     
  3. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    1919. After World War 1.
     
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  4. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Syracuse, Haudenosaunee, Vinland
    Hmmm... So, in this case 'the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train' is a GOOD thing?
    Sesquicentennial. 150 years.
    Also the Golden Spike was May, how can a July article (two months later) be 'in anticipation'?
     
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  5. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    Whoops. I'll fix that. I thought it was in September.
     
  6. Odinson Talk Nerdy To Me

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  7. Mark E. Well-Known Member

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    Let’s start with World War II. To manage wartime resources, the governments (US and UK) controlled everything. They told factories what to make, farmers what to grow, froze wages, rationed goods, etc. Author George Orwell had a concern that social and economic democracy might not return and his epic 1984 is in some ways an extrapolation of the controls of the period. Well, democracy did return, the economies opened up and businessmen were very glad to be in control again. But they were also amenable to strong regulation and the top income tax rate of 90% or more.

    In come the fifties and the jet airplanes. At this point, you need a hefty air travel tax to keep the railroads more attractive. Rail travel was still very prevalent. The Mississippi River communities of Hannibal, MO and Quincy, IL, in 1958, had more than fifty passenger trains per day through their communities. (The fact that we still even have a rail link to Chicago makes the town distinctive.)

    The year 1958 saw another event that hurt the railroads: rail workers won contracts to still be paid by mile rather than by hour, so the railroads could not take full advantage of higher speeds and efficiencies. Here is another place where government regulation is the only answer. How about environmental awareness to get the lead out of gasoline, limiting the performance of autos. And if the money that went into the Interstate highway system was partially allocated to high speed rail, think of how well the railroads might do.

    The key is to make the change in the decades after WW2, when the veterans of WW1 who were running the business were more amenable to regulation that brought the immense progress they saw since their own childhood. They saw the need for regulation as the means to move out of the Great Depression.

    I live only a few miles from the Mississippi River, America’s first trunk route of commerce, along with the Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Wabash, etc. Railroads paralleled the big rivers by 1900. Then came the highways. US 61, now four lane at many points, is teeming with semi trucks. In an ideal rail ATL, the truck drivers would be working for the railroads, as their grandfathers and great grandfathers did. They wouldn’t be taking week-long trips, they would be doing out-and-back runs to St. Louis, Chicago, Davenport and Kansas City and different crews would take the lines to the next hubs.

    The fact is, it will take regulation to preserve and build the railroad infrastructure. The federal and state governments spends immense sums subsidizing the trucking industry with more and more highways. Turn the clock back to the 19th century and they subsidized railroads on the condition they would build to a standard gauge. It worked.
     
  8. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    I chose 1919 to start this because for one thing, I had several ideas for various steam locomotive designs. I also have made some plans for various railroads to begin business relationships before merging.
     
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  9. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    UPDATE: POD changed to the Great Depression.
     
  10. Mark E. Well-Known Member

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    The earlier the better, to keep the railroads strong. Since they remained strong through the forties, I felt the primary goal was to keep them from declining in the late fifties and sixties. I still think you need regulation to hold down jet planes and high-octane fuels that made the jets and cars faster.
     
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  11. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    True.
     
  12. Mark E. Well-Known Member

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    How about nonstop trains. A train with a New York to Los Angeles route approaches Chicago and breaks into sections. Some cars go local. Some break off, without stopping and head west to Omaha, joining another train bound for San Francisco. The main train picks up cars and rearranges for the next hub, Kansas City, where some cars go local, some join a westbound train to Denver and the primary train picks up cars to continue to Santa Fe and ultimately Los Angeles.

    The train cars would probably need to be individually electrically powered, so there are technical issues.
     
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  13. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    A bit at a time. For I'm pondering if I should start with my first new thing: A new class of steam engine.
     
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  14. MorningDew suburbia is big gay

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    How about the pod be when the FHA and HOLD were founded? https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/housing-1929-1941
    The codes that these commissions made went a long way in establishing cartopia and modern-day suburbia as they are now (along with Levittown). Make the commissions favor denser housing like mass construction of rowhouses and prioritize building them closer to rail lines. That alone should help the railroads immensely.

    Also, Have rapid transit systems like the subways in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York keep growing after the war, and have rapid transit built for quickly growing cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore, DC, Detroit, SF, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Columbus, Indianapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Honolulu, Portland, Seattle and more.

    It is very hard to stop the decline of interurban rail simply because planes out-compete them everywhere except in the northeast. High-speed rail (specifically, DC-Boston and NYC-Chicago, I don't think any other routes would be profitable enough to justify) could alleviate this somewhat, but to really stop the decline of rail you have to keep cities (especially center cities, where the rail stations actually are) going strong instead of otl suburbia.

    EDIT: If rapid transit is profitable enough (one of the private subway operators in NYC had consistent profits for pretty much all of its lifespan), It can help subsidize interurban rail to an extent, so the ideas some of you posted earlier can still be accomplished. Allowing electricity producing companies to subsidize electric rail will go a long way for this (I think this was banned in the 30s otl).
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2019
  15. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    I know. I plan to have some urban planning things going on once we reach the 1950s era.
     
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  16. DougM Well-Known Member

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    Feb 18, 2015
    With the size of the country, the distance/time factor of trains vs planes for long distance,
    the advantage of cars (freedom of schedule and destination and ease of use) for local distance the reality is that Trains are NEVER going to stay popular.
    The only way they even stick around at anything higher then Amtack level is going to take massive tax dollars and draconian laws that are going to piss off a lot of companies and even more people. And are not going to allowed to stand by the Supreme Court in any version of the US that is close to what we know as the US.
    People just can’t seam to grasp the size of the US and how low the population density is. Even at 180 mph the distance from Michigan To Florida (for instance) is just to long to make trains attractive. And east west trains are even worse.
    As for getting the railroads to electrify forget it the cost of that many miles is just prohibiting. And anything else will not sustain that kind of speed as the cost in fuel will be crazy and you have to stop to often to change engines (refueling would take just way way to long)
    And the cost of high speed rail coverage for this kind of network was used bankrupt even the US. As for huge areas in the US you get a road every couple of miles at least and replacing grade crossings are ludicrously expensive, the reality is that the US about the Size of all of Europe and you would need to effectively build something close to the size of Europe’s network to cover the country. The problem is the US has about HALF the population. So even just duplicating the Eurpean system would cost the average American TWICE the money it cost Europe. And we all know that Europe puts up with a lot higher average taxes then the US does.
    But... it get worse. As HUGE chunks of Europe don’t have high speed rail, Basically it exists in France, Germany and Belgium and has some lines in the rest of Western Europe but is not even close to covering Eastern Europe. Frankly it only covers the major routs even in France and Germany. So that network street echoed accos the US is going to leave large areas having to use much slower systems (you know the kind of system we got rid of because we didn’t like it)
    As for the ideas of not covering everyone to save money, well that means something else has to be used so the railroad won’t be dominant in huge chunks of the US. And more importantly it won’t get funded by congress. No Congressional member from say Montana or Alaska is going to vote to spend that much money on a system that thier state doesn’t get. And congressmen from the higher population States are going to balk at spending the huge amounts to subsidize the rail network in states with low population.
    Yes we kind of did that with the highway system but that started off slowly took a LONG time and has a number of other advantages. Not the least that most users only ride on it short distance for commuting.
    So frankly you are never going to get trains to stay popular no matter how much you may want to unless you change the US to the point that it is no longer the US.
    Keep in mind I am pro trains. I belong to a number of Railroad historical society I have ridden trains in the US and Europe and I have a large collection of train books for reasearch purposes but the reality is that Trains just don’t work for primary passenger travel in the US. And even in Europe only work because the government has passed taxes and such to support them. And even thier Cars and Airplanes give them a run
     
  17. Joe Bonkers Bears are fast.

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    For a person who claims to love trains, you are incredibly excited about attacking them. Every time a thread like this appears, you can count on DougM tripping over himself in his rush to get into the thread and start dumping on the idea. You don't win points for that, you know.
     
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  18. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    Believe me, I have plans to change all that.
     
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  19. MorningDew suburbia is big gay

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    If you do plan to greatly change the U.S.A. like that...

    Could I contribute to this by doing infographics and posts on local/metropolitan rail and transport systems? I have a lot of knowledge on mass transit and its history in the U.S. (Grew up in D.C. and rode the metro all my life), and plenty of ideas on how they could have looked different.
     
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  20. Andrew Boyd Autistic, but Artistic

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    Sure. Just remember to share in Inbox. Though I do want to remember that in the words of @TheMann, there will always be people who want a house with a fence and pool and two-car garage, so suburbia won't be completely butterflied.
     
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