Lack of Productivity Afflicts U.S. Commuter Rail

What the U.S. does with twenty-five workers, Spain does with nine; 'work rules' are part of the problem when it comes to the lack of productivity and high costs of America's regional rail systems.
August 31, 2012, 6am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Stephen Smith continues his examination of the inefficiencies plaguing America's rail transit systems. While his prior piece focused on the comparatively high cost of construction, this piece looks at the how "high labor costs drag down service, prevent new lines from opening, and depress ridership and revenues," along the nation's commuter railroads.

According to the article, many American commuter railroads over-employ unneeded conductors, often at the fault of powerful union work rules. Vukan Vuchic, a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that, "regional railroads should adopt leaner train crews, allowing them to run more trains an hour. In other words, get rid of conductors. Turnstiles would replace them on busy lines, with proof-of-payment systems for those with less traffic. This honor system enforced by occasional ticket checks with heavy fines for fare dodgers was popularized in Europe, and has already spread to buses and newer North American rail systems."

Despite the pleas of many, and a stated 'win-win' for both passengers and labor by the author, progress to adopt more efficient labor practices and upgrade infrastructure to automate more of the passenger experience has remained slow.

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Published on Monday, August 27, 2012 in Bloomberg
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