Hal Gardner’s letter: Railroads vs Semis


Harold W. Gardner, PhD

440 Mt. Zion Rd.

Carlisle, PA 17015

December 30, 2016


Environmental Defense Fund

257 Park Avenue South

New York, NY 10010


Dear Sirs:

It is generally recognized that railroads are the most efficient carrier of freight, at least in countries other than the U.S.A. When President Eisenhower created the Interstate system of highways, it was the end of the railroads. Altoona, PA, was once a center of railroading became a ghost town with decaying railroad buildings.

Railroads expend 26% of their capital income on roadbed upkeep and local land taxes. I seem to recall that semis are charged only about 8%, but this figure can be contested. For example, most trucks have Maine plates, which tells me that the plates are extremely cheap. Incredibly, semis only pay double that of cars on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76). Considering the tremendous damage semis cause to the roadbed, especially at high speed, this is absolutely ridiculous.

I live in Cumberland County, PA, which is the transient of fully 12% of the GNP of the U.S.A. via I-81 and I-76. Semi or car wrecks are almost a daily occurrence. Diesel fumes cause the valley to have among the worst pollution in the country. The Cumberland valley once was a beautiful place, but now the best farmland is occupied by monster warehouses of millions of acres. And, warehouses continue to be constructed west of Carlisle. There is virtually no oversight because PA still has the archaic system of township government. As little as three township board members make the decisions sometimes being bribed by the warehouse corporations.

How to solve the problem? Either equally subsidize railroads or increase taxes on semi-trucks. I believe the latter is the only one that would work. In other words, a significant federal tax on semis would revive the railroads.

I was involved in an environmental fight with the free ride barges received by federal upkeep of waterways. We received significant help from the Western Railroad Association. In order to construct Locks and Dam 26 on the Mississippi, Congress required barges to pay fuel tax for the first time. So, I believe it is possible to obtain a significant federal tax levied on semi-trucks.

The safety of the Interstates and the tremendous cost of roadbed upkeep from semi damage are other important points for saving the railroads..





Harold W. Gardner


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