Assessing Adequacy of America's Transportation Policies: Lessons from Debate about the Role of Railroads in Development of the American West


Cameron Gordon

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - history, land use - planning, ridership - growth, mode - rail


United States, Trucking, Truck transportation, Transportation policy, Transportation planning, Railways, Railroads, Policy making, Motor truck transportation, Investments, Investment requirements, Infrastructure, History, Freight transportation, Economic growth


This paper compares and contrasts two debates about the role of transportation in the American economy. The contemporary policy debate revolves around adequacy of current transportation infrastructure, whether infrastructure investment should be increased, and how and whether congestion should be addressed by public policy. An earlier debate in the economic history field revolved around whether the railroads were indispensable to America’s economic growth and how the building of a rail network affected the shape of that growth. This paper argues that in certain ways the contemporary policy exchange is covering much of the same ground covered by analysts studying the railroads and that the former can be usefully informed by the latter.