Computers have changed the way railroads conduct business. Today, companies can transmit orders and waybills from their own dispatching centers directly to trains nationwide.
Even the boxcar, the standard freight-carrying vehicle for more than 160 years, has gotten a nudge. Replacing it is the RoadRailer, a truck trailer with removable wheels that runs like a train when its on the tracks.
And even more dramatic changes may be on the way. One of the nation's major railroads, CSX, is developing a new concept called the "Iron Highway," which is a continuous ramp on which truck trailers can be loaded. It's a new twist to the well-established practice of hauling trucks on trains, and one that's supposed to make railroads more competitive in the short-haul market of a few hundred miles or less.
In Southern California, diesel locomotives are out at the Santa Fe and Union Pacific's giant terminals. The two roads are operating locomotives powered by liquified natural gas to reduce emissions and meet clean-air standards.
Meanwhile, Amtrak recently unveiled its American Flyer, America's first high-speed (up to 150 mph) passenger trains, which will be in service between Washington, D.C., and Boston by the end of 1999. The company promises more high-speed "corridors" nationwide.
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