A Short History of U.S. Freight Railroads

Since their birth more than 185 years ago, railroads have played a crucial role in America’s development. They grew rapidly in the decades up to World War I. Following the war, growing competition from highways and waterways and increasingly stringent regulation led to the rail industry’s decline.

By the 1970s, railroads were at the brink of ruin. The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 brought regulatory balance and gave railroads a new start. They responded by dramatically increasing productivity, sharply lowering rates, and reinvesting hundreds of billions of dollars — in private funds, not taxpayer funds — back into their networks to create what is now the best freight rail system in the world.

Looking ahead, the high quality of America’s privately owned freight railroads must be maintained so that they can continue to meet America’s transportation needs and help our economy grow.

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