Daily Video

April 22, 2009

What’s Wrong With America’s Trains

While America is a producer of cutting-edge software, has some of the best universities in the world and boasts world-class hospitals, some of its technology for moving goods from one place to another is stuck in the 19th century.

In this report, correspondent Rick Karr explores the problems with America’s aging freight rail infrastructure. While European nations have upgraded their train tracks, some American freight train crews, like the one Karr follows in Chicago, have to change the track switches by hand and move at less than 10 miles per hour.

Karr learns that while freight train travel is cheaper than truck travel, a truck will get goods where they need to go much faster.

Although there is no federal agency that oversees freight rail infrastructure, President Obama has promised billions of dollars to improve high-speed passenger rail, which could also improve the tracks that freight trains use.


“Some of the technology on Chicago’s rails hasn’t emerged from the 19th century.” – Rick Karr, special correspondent

“By the time they load it in Detroit and train it to Chicago, switch it to the appropriate train headed for Mexico, we can get it here faster so that the customer has it on time so that they can build the automobiles.” – Mike Southworth, truck driver

“Countries like the U.K., like Germany, like Canada, they have developed a freight strategy for their countries just in the last decade and sometimes in the last four or five years. Here in the United States, we’ve kind of been sleepwalking. We’ve been doing things the way we’ve always done it.” – Marysue Barrett, President, Metropolitan Planning Council

Warm Up Questions

1. How do your clothes get from the factory to the store?

2. Do you see trains carrying freight (things, not people)? What are they carrying?

Discussion Questions

1. Were you surprised that freight train infrastructure is that far behind in Chicago? Should something be done to fix it?

2. Why do you think Europe invested money in fixing their trains while we have not?

3. Do you think truck drivers want to see the freight train system improved? Why or why not?

4. Is it the government’s job to make systems like the freight train system work better? Or should the train companies pay for it? Explain your opinion.

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

Blueprint America

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