Keeping The Railroads Running by Karl A Borntrager (1974)

We don’t plan on turning our blogs into a bookstore even if Ancien Hippie is also selling one too.

Ours is not a new release. It was published in 1974. Why are we selling an old book? Because it is just so appropriate to the current situation of American Railroads!

“Keeping the Railroads Running” by Karl Borntrager. The author describes his one-half century on the New York Central Railroad and reviews the then-current railroad situation.

 I was struck by how accurate his observations were regarding the problems that beset the NYC – and other railroads – in the 1950’s, and how every one has been addressed since then.
 Fascinating assessment of the management of the New York Central Railroad by its former Senior Vice President. The author combines the story of his personal climb through the ranks with a dispassionate critique of how those who controlled the NYC as well as those who labored for it managed to destroy a remarkable institution.

“For the industry as a whole I think the following steps should be taken:

1.  Free all roads from passenger service losses.  Largely done by the creation of Amtrak.

2.  Eliminate real estate taxes on railroads or at least reduce them to a level commensurate with other taxpayers.  Perhaps not to where they should be, but for example in NY state the taxation basis for railroads has been amended considerably from former levels.

3.  Repeal all full crew laws.  What would he think of today’s 2-man crews?

4.  Make proper adjustment promptly in freight divisions.  The Staggers Act gave the railroads the rate making freedom they so desperately needed, and what a difference that has made.

5.  Congress should enact legislation restricting the jurisdiction of the ICC over the railroads.  For example, one of the restrictive powers of the ICC is approval or disapproval of freight rates proposed by the roads.  This control should not be exercised when the railroad can show that its proposal can get new business and show a profit.  Again, Staggers and related changes brought the railroads into an era where they can actually compete as a business, and determine their own price structure.”

Mr. Borntrager passed away in 1990 at age 98, but it’s doubtful he lived to see the full extent of his views coming to fruition. We can only wonder how railroads in general, and NYC in particular, would have fared if these changes had been implemented in about 1950. Could a more competitive and efficient rail system have slowed the decline of heavy industry in this nation? No way to say for sure but interesting to debate whether PC would have happened if those changes had come 30 or 40 years earlier. Hats off to KAB for the accuracy of his views.

Here is the link to buy the book

He lived to see reductions in crew sizes as well as the elimination of the caboose too. That was another huge expense for railroads that isn’t often discussed.

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