Chart of the Day: Rail Freight


Paul Krugman notes one way in which the US seems to be well ahead of the EU: it moves much more of its freight by rail. He gives a lot of good reasons for this (Europe’s got more coastline and more borders; America has more coal), but does say that "maybe other factors" might play a part.

The most obvious one is the passenger rail system on which Krugman sped from Barcelona to Madrid. There’s a big difference between today’s industry and that of the 1950s, when more than half Europe’s freight travelled by rail: the customers are much more urgent now, and want their freight in a specific place, and just in time.

That’s fine in the US, where freight pays much better than passengers, and Krugman’s market forces give freight trains priority over people. But that’s also why Amtrak is so plagued by delays: its trains tend to be bottom of the priority list.

In Europe, passenger trains have priority over freight trains, which makes freight much less attractive. Yes, there are a few dedicated freight lines. But whenever freight trains join the passenger rail system, their journey is likely to be slow and unpredictable. It’s good for passengers, but the result is the blue line in the chart above.

This entry was posted in charts. Bookmark the permalink.