Hundred yards away out my living room windows lies a railroad mainline and trunk highway, the BNSF Marshall Subdivision and Minnesota 23 to be exact. MN 23 is an old trucker’s shortcut from the packing plants of western Minnesota to Omaha, Denver, and the huge markets of California. Thus I’m treated to a parade of over a thousand big trucks a day, usually driven by a newbie paid by the mile, making newbie mistakes and not too motivated to pursue trucking as a career. Been that way pretty much since deregulation three decades ago waved the checkered flag for an 18 wheeler race to the bottom on America’s highways.

So in the cabs of most of these trucks are often two recent grads of a one week driving school, one trying to stay awake behind the wheel and the other trying to sleep in the bunk behind. Probably in hock for several thousand dollars, which will purportedly be reinbursed by the trucking company if they last a year… It’s no coincidence that a year is how long the average driver stays with these trucking companies. The drivers are slaves to that truck and whatever freight is available going wherever, recently talked to a newbie driver who’d been forced to sit in a rest area in the middle of nowhere for a day and a half because the trucking company  was too cheap to get their drivers home or at least to a motel by the time they’d worked the legal limit of 70 hours in 5 days. The trucking company’s business plan is to cut every cost possible… Drivers, other road users, and customers be damned!

Now this truckin’ on the cheap business plan eventually backfires, as the drivers go back to minimum wage jobs where they at least get to go home at night and customers tire of poor service. With drivers that can barely make the truck go forward, never mind back up, the trucking companies go after lucrative long hauls better handled by railroads. That wears a truck out in just a few years, compounded by the trucking companies refusal to pay mechanics enough to keep them around either.Trying to keep an eye on all these newbies, the trucking companies are now piling on the electronic overseers, expensively monitoring their trucks 24/7 in hopes of at least getting some notice of when the drivers jump ship or put ‘er in the ditch or worse. The roads they run on aren’t gettin’ any better either, as the trucking companies fight any attempt to increase the fuel and registration taxes they pay.

Then after a hundred trucks or so, a train comes by. Big as a house locomotives and loud too,but otherwise not much drama…In the six years I’ve watched thousands of trains pass by, the total tally of damages has been two busted couplers between the cars. The brakes came on automatically and the disconnected cars stayed up right and on the tracks, followed by an hour or two’s delay  while repairs were made and the train inspected for damage. No surprise, because a typical railroad engineer has spent twice and more as long as a truck driver lasts on the job just training and working their way up as a conductor or brakeman before being allowed to run a train. Thanks to good union negotiated wages and benefits, they tend to be lifers, ’til pried away from the tracks by “30 and out” Railroad Retirement pensions at age 60.

Same for the surviving union trucking companies like UPS, Yellow Roadway, ABF,  and the numerous big wholesale bakeries, dairies, and grocery chains with their own Teamster driven fleets. I see them pass by every day, same driver and same time ’til retirement beckons. These unionized trucking operations let the railroads handle the long hauls, saving their skilled drivers and trucks for local pickups and deliveries that most of the trucking company’s newbie drivers can’t handle. And while much of the trucking industry is underwater in debt to the truckmaker’s finance companies (by the time Arrow trucking filed for bankruptcy and abandoned their drivers on the road, Daimler Finance was loaning them $$$ for fuel), the railroads and unionized UPS, etc. are cash cows.

Which puts the unionized railroads and trucking operations in a position to grab market share from the faltering fly by night trucking companies and save american trucking. With oil and frac sand trains parked in the sidings, the railroads have capacity to sell and are expanding services-BNSF just added daily dedicated intermodal trains from the Pacific Northwest to Denver and Texas, and more service expansions are coming. These expansions give Teamster Union organized trucking companies the opportunity to save wear and tear on their trucks and drivers by letting the railroads handle the long hauls so they can specialize in the short hauls.

Unionized railroading and trucking is good for the environment too, with trains hauling freight two, three, and four times as far on a gallon of fuel as trucks can. And with BNSF parent company Berkshire Hathaway building massive wind farms darn near in sight of the tracks, can railroad electrification with clean energy be far off? Same with the trucks bringing freight to and from the railroads- Shorter hauls means cleaner fuels like natural gas and even clean electric trucks become viable.

Union labor running our railroads and trucks: Good for America, and good for the environment!

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