Recent technological developments, such as electric vehicles, could possibly be a threat to rail. What has been the railroads' response? (Tony Hatch)

20161212 Tonyhatch (Cropped)

Rail Response – it's muted so far.

Rails have PTC, which should be fully operational on January 1, 2021. With that, they have the ability to stop trains remotely (and with Trip Optimizer, etc, they can start them) – what CSX COO Jamie Boychuk calls “zero-to-zero.”

On their privately owned, privately financed, privately policed network, they have the technology (or will have very soon) to run autonomous trains.

What they don’t have is union support (national negotiations, supposed to be considering one-man crews, are ongoing). Nor do they have government/regulatory (nor it is supposed, popular) support. In fact, the latest Transportation Bill included a provision to legislate two-man crews, using that same T-Horse; I suppose it has more to do with the power of and competition between the two union groups represented in the cab (Teamsters and the AFL-CIO), and their relationship to the Democratic Party.

The rails need regulatory change, labor buy-in (BNSF came close with a sector a few years back), and proof of concept….Remember that full autonomy is “advantage truck” because the rails start from a labor advantage.