Romance of the Rails is the culmination of Randal O’Toole’s lifetime of research and experience as an enthusiast of the rails and as a transportation expert. American transportation has undergone many technological revolutions: from sailing ships to steamships; canals to railroads; steam to diesel; horse-drawn to electric streetcars; passenger trains and urban rail transit to airplanes and automobiles. The government has allowed and encouraged most of these revolutions, but it spends billions of dollars a year attempting to turn back the clock for rail transit and intercity passenger trains.
To show why, O’Toole provides a detailed history of rail in America leading to the present, when federally subsidized efforts to return to rail’s golden age are doing more harm than good. O’Toole examines the costly allure of high-speed trains and light rail, demonstrating that passenger rail doesn’t even work well in Europe and Asia, much less here. Far from being backward, America’s railroads are the envy of the world, moving freight efficiently and profitably while leaving passengers to other modes of travel that are faster, less expensive, and more convenient.
The book concludes that the passenger transportation of the future will rely on America’s 4 million miles of roads and on air travel. As Romance of the Rails thoroughly chronicles, Americans love passenger trains, but given the vast resources inexplicably being poured into them, we are being taken for a ride.
Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has written five previous books and numerous research reports on transportation and land-use issues, including Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do about It. He is also a rail fan who helped restore the world's third-most powerful steam locomotive and who once personally owned five railroad passenger cars. As an amateur historian, he has written articles on rail history for Minnesota History and other history journals. Described by U.S. News and World Report as a researcher who "has earned a reputation for dogged legwork and sophisticated number crunching," he has been a leader in innovative thinking on environmentalism, natural resources, and urban land use.