In a New Year's message to his rail advocacy friends, VRPI Founder Dick Beadles took a look ahead at 2016 and concluded that, "Twenty-fifteen (2015) was not a good year for rail, and certain trends do not bode well for 2016."
"Currently there is panic, or near panic, in the executive suites of freight rail companies. With the exception of a few bright spots, such as the automotive sector, rail freight business in the east is terrible. Coal traffic – the traditional base of rail freight -- is down 30% or more, and it isn’t coming back, at least nowhere near what it was. It’s gone!"
Beadles' commentary presaged the alarms now sounding around the country about the dire effects the rapid disappearance of the coal market continues to have on the rail freight industry. Most railroads are responding with policies of retrenchment that all but guarantee rail will be even less competitive with highway freight and the door will shut to new business opportunities that could maintain corporate vitality.
Mergers and hostile takeovers are one consequence of an unstable and shrinking industry, and Beadles warns about the then-active takeover bid of Norfolk Southern by Canadian Pacific.
Beadles also discusses Amtrak and the pending changes in regulatory policy by the Surface Transportation Board, exhorting rail advocates to speak up and make a difference in 2016.
"The time has come for those of us who care deeply about the future of both rail freight and passenger services to do our part in an effort to save the railroad industry from itself... Let’s weigh in with the STB, as they have invited all to do. Let’s speak out about the potential set-back to Virginia rail freight and passenger Investment and service development programs. ... We have come too far to stumble now."