Economies of Density and Regulatory Change in the U.S. Railroad Freight Industry
Two reform acts, the Staggers Railroad Act of 1980 and the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, represented big changes in U.S. policy toward railroads. An important welfare gain from these changes predicted by researchers was the efficiency gain from increased densities in rail freight traffic. However, few retrospective studies have analyzed the accuracy of these predictions. The present paper fills this gap by analyzing the effects of regulatory changes on freight traffic density, through simulation of the cost savings from gains in density, using a newly estimated rail cost function, and by comparison of these results with earlier predictions. Our results indicate net benefits of $7-$10 billion per year (as of 2001), stemming from cost savings from increased traffic densities relative to what would have occurred under regulation. These benefits are substantially higher than those predicted by researchers in the 1970s and early 1980s, for reasons explained in the paper.
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