Background Note | HBS Case Collection | January 2014 (Revised May 2014)

Rail Transportation in the United States

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Matthew Guilford

Abstract

In the 20th century, automobiles and airlines pushed rail into the background as an often-troubled and neglected mode. After a review of the long history of rail in the U.S., this paper examines the situation in the 21st century, including the rail market structure, and discusses key players like BNSF, CSX, and Norfolk Southern. Today, by most measures, freight rail is doing better than ever, while passenger rail faces significant challenges—though it is clear that numerous pain points and bottlenecks interfere with optimal use of rail to move both people and goods. This note offers a structured way of thinking through the issues facing rail transportation and discusses three recent freight rail infrastructure projects that hold promise for the future: the National Gateway, the Keystone Corridor, and the CREATE decongestion project in Chicago.

Keywords: railroad history; History; Rail Transportation; Rail Industry;

Citation:

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, and Matthew Guilford. "Rail Transportation in the United States." Harvard Business School Background Note 314-084, January 2014. (Revised May 2014.)