When I moved to a small Indiana town in 1978, the apartment I rented was near railroad tracks. For about the first week, I’d awaken each night several times to the sounds of the passing trains. After that my brain adapted and tuned them out. I was able to sleep through without being disturbed.
I learned recently (via Barron’s) that railroads have learned to operate with fewer staff and, hence, more efficiently. Now, they’re struggling to attract workers. Not an easy life. Most folks don’t want to be away from home for days or even weeks at a time traveling through (pretty much) the middle of nowhere. Starting training salaries of about 50K doesn’t seem to be a sufficiently rich incentive to attract people.
Back in the late 70s, each train had a caboose that was staffed. Now I notice that has been replaced by a light at the end. No staffing. No caboose.
I once read that investing guru Warren Buffett closely follows rail freight patterns. It’s a good leading indicator of where economic trends are headed.
One Barron’s featured observer pointed out that railroads don’t have any cool “Top Gun” type movies that gives the industry glamour.
Many years ago Peggy and I took an Amtrak train from Indiana to Boston. There were some glimmers of the romance of a bygone era. A few elderly porters who had spent their lives on the railroad attending to the passengers. The food in the dining car was pretty good. The only negative was the train on our trip then was quite a bit behind schedule for the arrival.
Train shipment lost some transport market share to trucking during the pandemic. Because of greater efficiencies, railroads have had quite decent profitability in recent years. At the same time, partly because of their difficulties attracting workers, the next few years will probably be more of a climb.