The government, or in Mr. Haeg’s words “bureaucratic central planners and distorters in disguise,” embarked on what turned out to be a half century stranglehold on the railroads, deeming them to be “federal instrumentalities.”
To compound the offense, “they showered public subsidies of money on [highways, waterways and airlines] and deprived the railroads of their ability to decide how much money they could charge for their service.”
As the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and other federal bodies micromanaged or sought to micromanage the railroad industry, the newer competitors benefited.
Mr. Haeg sums it up: “Trucks became faster, bigger, more efficient, with pneumatic six-cylinder engines … and semi-trailers loaded on flatbed railroad cars. Then came container shipping and the federal interstate highway system, and five-axle eighteen wheelers … . The final indignity was that rack trucks, not railroads ended up hauling most of the new cars … .”
Could the transportation mix have ended up much differently today with a more level official playing field in those early years? One can only speculate.
Wes Vernon’s career with CBS radio ended after 25 years. He writes a column for Railfan and Railroad magazine.