Monday, April 7, 2014

Where to Live VII - Railroads

It's not all about threats.
What do an ex-hippy curmudgeon like James Howard Kunstler and an ultra-conservative* military consultant like William S. Lind have in common? For different reasons,** each is convinced that rail transportation will and should play a much larger role in the future of America. If they are correct, then where the trains run may control the movement of and therefore determine the availability of all non-local goods.

Long before diesel reaches $20 a gallon, the owner-operators that make up much of America's truck fleet are going to give it up. Not even Wal Mart will be able to afford to truck inexpensive goods to every small town in America.  When goods cannot be shipped cheaply en masse, markets must necessarily shrink. That's going to come as a massive shock to an economy predicated on perpetual market growth.

If Peak Cheap Oil causes our modern motor culture to grind to a halt, we will need to find a more energy-efficient means for moving goods.  For moving goods out of America, there has never been a cheaper and more efficient road than our river system.  Nothing can compete with the ease or cost of moving goods down Big Muddy. For moving people and goods in other directions, however, rail is by far the most efficient method. That trains can run on diesel, on electric, on coal, and on time*** is an added bonus. 

Kunstler argues that for a number of technological reasons, the railways we have today - including those former railways converted to bike trails - might be all the railways we'll ever get.  That means areas that have railroad access today may suffer less market disruption and even scarcity in the future than those that do not. On the other hand, it is not only goods that can arrive by rail, but bads as well.

In any number of SHTF scenarios, the availability of railroads within a reasonable distance may mean the difference between remaining part of a larger market system and living in almost complete isolation.  Some preppers want the former, others pine for the latter.  Just one more factor to consider when deciding where to dig in for the long run.

* No, that's not a perjorative. Lind is an old-school, proto-monarchist who thinks Western civilization might have been better served had Germany won the Great War.
** Kunstler (The Long Emergency) is convinced that Peak Cheap Oil means the end of our suburban motoring culture making future rail a default, whereas Lind (The Next Conservatism) is primarily concerned with making the choice of rail available today for the societal benefits it will bring.
*** Historical fact of the day: standard times and time zones were introduced in the 19th century to allow for coordination of railroad schedules.


  1. I hadn't even gotten to this point in consideration. But, yeah, steam trains are not a problem with the plentitude of coal, the tech that will remain, and all. Thankfully there are tracks, still in use, and a station (in disuse due to no need for water fills) just a few miles away. As things go, I keep finding that, within some limitations, I chose more wisely, if to a degree accidentally, than I could have planned. Thanks for the morning cheer.


    Yeah, I can see that.

  2. The dead town nearest me doesn't even have a station building anymore, but it does have siderails where the trains used to pull in long ago...

  3. Keep some extra nails and wood on hand. If all it takes is a water tank to get them to start stopping... build it and they will come. We would have to do some infrastructure work, here, as well. But as is, trains "park" there still. It's actually a very good thing, to my senses. I didn't understand why until your post.

  4. Steam trains? The oil isn't going to just stop. If it does, there won't be any steam trains, due to the simple fact that there are none, and the few exceptions that I know of aren't big enough to move much, and they aren't going to get built with no oil, and if they do it would take many years to replace all the diesel trains.

    There will be enough oil to run trains and ships and cars for a long time. But cars are going to get smaller and be used for necessities instead of just for kicks. 50 mpg instead of 15. Motorcycles and scooters ftw.

    Our lifestyle is going to change. For one thing, We won't grow billions of bushels of corn to feed to cows and pigs to eat. We will grow grain to eat ourselves, because it is so much more efficient. Instead of 10 pounds of corn producing 1 pound of meat, we eat ten pounds of wheat. Less fertilizer needed.

    We live very wasteful lives right now. That will end first, because the price of everything will go up.

  5. Meh. We have two steam train museums hereabouts, with about eight to ten steam trains, mostly functional, each. Not sure about gauge, mind you, but that is a lesser problem to try to fix than building steam trains from scratch, though no small task.

    A few of them were the biggest, fastest, steam engines which were among the last to compete with the newer trains, so they can haul, just not as fast/efficiently.