Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
railroads, transportation, deregulation
Just over a hundred years prior, American railroads claimed the unprecedented feat of traversing the entirety of the North American continent. At Promontory Point, Utah, two locomotives, the Jupiter and the No. 119, met pilot to pilot in an event which was broadcast nationwide via telegraph and is still memorialized today. In the years following, the railroad industry gained unprecedented power. In the late 19th century and the opening years of the 20th, much policy-making impetus was focused on checking the power of the railroads.Public sentiment largely opposed the monolithic strength wielded by the industry, and the federal government both strove to keep the power in check through regulating policies such as rate-setting as well as attempting to maintain the railroads as a public good through mandating equity of infrastructure among communities and setting standard rates.The importance of these regulations is demonstrated through the multitude of jurisprudence and lawmaking dedicated to the rail regulation. For the next half century, the regulatory scheme oscillated somewhat between ideological poles, but all the while avoiding what could be described as a laissez-faire approach. However, by the mid-1970s, the railroad industry was on its proverbial knees. Crippled by the expansion and subsidization of automobile transport and hampered by antiquated regulations, railroad companies were merging, deferring maintenance and cutting service across the country in an attempt to stay solvent. The aforementioned film highlights the railroad industry in this period; its purpose was to entice the federal government into “saving” the railroad through financial assistance. However, what occurred between and 1980 was distinctly more drastic. In a series of acts of heretofore unseen scope, Congress widely deregulated railroads through the passage of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, while nearly simultaneously nationalizing intercity passenger rail service through the creation of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, or Amtrak, and northeastern freight rail transport through the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail).
Scherck, Henry Strangford, "Diverging Approach: Railroad Regulation the Staggers Act and Path Dependence" (2016). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 113.