The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 Helped to Improve Productivity and Reduce Railroad Work Injuries

The railroad industry enjoyed a long period of prosperity and success. For many years, it faced no real competition. The only major competitor in terms of long-distance transportation was the shipping industry. When it came to land transportation, the railroads had it made. That all changed rapidly during the early part of the 20th century. Automobiles quickly became the preferred method of transportation for people, and passenger travel on railroads declined sharply until it practically disappeared. The highway system made the modern trucking industry possible, and a lot of volume was transferred to that industry. Air travel and transportation also wreaked havoc on the railroad industry and cut into its profits considerably as well. Prior to all of these changes, the heavy regulation of the railroad industry made sense. Following World War II in particular, however, these strict regulations began posing serious problems for the industry. Railroad companies were unable to adjust their own rates, and they could not tailor their services as needed to ensure profitability. Strict economic regulations even forced nine carriers to go bankrupt, and others struggled to raise even small amounts of capital. As the later part of the 20th century dawned, it became clear that changes were needed. Railroads’ economic troubles were having negative impacts on railroad workers’ safety. They also affected the safety of passengers and others who were involved in railroads in any way. With so little extra money, carriers were unable to devote any to improving safety or to maintaining rails or equipment. All of this finally led to the implementation of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which is now known as the Surface Transportation Board. The act effectively removed some of the most problematic regulatory constraints on the industry. In turn, carriers were given a lot more flexibility, which allowed them to adjust their services and prices as needed to ensure their survival. The Staggers Rail Act placed limits on the authority of the ICC in areas where railroad traffic had little or no competition. In places where plenty of competition exists, which accounts for about 20 percent of the industry, the ICC still maintains authority. Another important aspect of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 is that it legalized contracts between shippers and railroads. This had a very positive impact on service levels, rates, equipment and other aspects that affect the profitability of the industry as whole. In the years leading up to the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act, the railroads’ market share in revenue ton-miles has declined to 37.5 percent. These days, it is well above the 40-percent mark. Railroads’ return on investment reached an average of 8 percent, which is a huge improvement over the previous average ROI of 2 percent. As a direct result of the Staggers Rail Act, the railroad industry has made more than $511 billion in capital improvements, which includes the maintenance of equipment, rails and structures. From 1981 to 2009, railroad accidents and railroad work injuries declined by a staggering 65 percent. Clearly, the Staggers Rail Act has had enormous benefits for the industry financially, but it has also dramatically improved safety as well. That is not to say that railroad work injuries are things of the past. Working for the railroad continues to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Workers should never assume that their rights are being protected. Without a talented FELA railroad accident lawyer, an injured worker is unlikely to receive all of the compensation to which they are entitled. The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 was a big step in the right direction, but railroad workers still need to do what they can to protect themselves. If you have been injured in a train accident, retain an experienced and competent FELA attorney right away to protect your rights.