Which single company provides US railways with the most revenue? According to Bob Longenecker, Vice President Transportation, it is United Parcels Service at $500m a year. He assured the Intermodal 96 conference in London on December 5 that ’UPS is a customer of every American railroad’; while this is hyperbole (there are some 500 US operators), the commitment to work with rail managers to develop high quality service at competitive prices is plain to see. UPS has dedicated piggyback trains on Burlington Northern Santa Fe that take priority over everything else on the tracks, including passengers. Longenecker says US railways ’are commercially aware, listen to customers, and give the operating flexibility and commitments we need.’

He would dearly like to set up similar services in Europe, where it handles 127 million packages in Germany alone. Aside from potential cost and speed advantages, Longenecker sees rail as ’a better environmental alternative’ which ’can overcome the increasing delays involved in using the congested road network, familiar to all of us here in Europe.’ Unhappily, rail use remains limited to ’a small segment’ handled by DB. A memorandum of understanding is being drafted that could see UPS using the TGV Nord Europe network, but ’this is very small.’

Longenecker applauds the vision of Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock of freight freeways spanning the continent, on which freight and passengers would get ’equal priority’ and any licensed carrier could operate trains with minimal delay and formalities. The high quality track is there. Schedules to beat those of BNSF’s hotshot freights are maintained without difficulty - for passengers. Only absent is the collective will to make it work. o