Romance of the Rails Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2018-10-26
  • Publisher: Cato Institute

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American transportation has undergone many technological revolutions: from sailing ships to steam ships; from canals to railroads; from steam to Diesels; from horse cars to electric streetcars; from passenger trains and urban rail transit to airplanes and automobiles. Normally, the government has allowed and even encouraged these revolutions, but for some reason the federal government is spending billions of dollars trying to preserve and build obsolete rail transit and passenger train lines, including high-speed trains that cost more but are less than half as fast as flying. In Romance of the Rails, rail fan and transportation policy expert Randal O'Toole asks why passenger trains have been singled out and whether this policy makes sense.

To answer this question, the book looks at the history of both intercity and urban rail transportation going back to 1825. The Golden Age of rail passenger travel, from about 1890 to 1920, depended on job and population concentrations that no longer exist today. Moreover, even during that Golden Age, most rail travel was confined to the elites, while a majority of Americans rarely if ever rode a streetcar or intercity train. Federally subsidized efforts to return to that Golden Age, through subsidies to Amtrak and local transit agencies, are doing more harm than good to personal mobility. Instead, the transportation of the future will rely on America's 4 million miles of roads and air travel that requires minimal infrastructure.

Author Biography

Randal O'Toole is a Cato Institute Senior Fellow working on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Transcontinental Railroads

Chapter 2: The Growth of Urban Transit

Chapter 3: The Golden Age of Passenger Trains

Chapter 4: The Golden Age of Rail Transit

Chapter 5: The Silver Age of Passenger Trains

Chapter 6: The Decline of Urban Rail Transit

Chapter 7: The Decline of Intercity Passenger Trains

Chapter 8: The Municipalization of Urban Transit

Chapter 9: The Nationalization of Intercity Passenger Trains

Chapter 10: American Cities Rediscover Rail Transit

Chapter 11: Keeping Up with the Jones (International High-Speed Rail)

Chapter 12: Rapidly Deteriorating Transit

Chapter 13: Low-Capacity Rail

Chapter 14: Streetcars and the Economic Development Hoax

Chapter 15: It Would Have Cost Less to Buy Them All Priuses

Chapter 16: Why Amtrak Is Being Replaced by Intercity Buses

Chapter 17: The False Promise of High-Speed Rail

Chapter 18: Passenger Rail in America's Transportation Future

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