Electronic book text
January 10, 2018
9781421424163
9781421424156
English
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$59.95 USD, £44.50 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Back on Track

American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1965–2015

Throughout the early twentieth century, railroad safety steadily improved across the United States. But by the 1960s, American railroads had fallen apart, the result of a regulatory straightjacket that eroded profitability and undermined safety. Collisions, derailments, worker fatalities, and grade crossing mishaps skyrocketed, while hazmat disasters exploded into newspaper headlines.

In Back on Track, his sequel to Death Rode the Rails, Mark Aldrich traces the history of railroad accidents beginning in 1965, when Congress responded to bankrupt and scandal-ridden carriers by enacting a new safety regime. Aldrich details the federalization of rail safety and the implementation of a massive grade crossing program. He touches on post-1976 economic deregulation, which provided critical financing that underwrote better public safety. He also explores how the National Transportation Safety Board acted as a public scold to shine bright lights on private failings, while Federal Railroad Administration regulations reinforced market incentives for better safety.

Ultimately, Aldrich concludes, the past 50 years have seen great strides in restoring railroad safety while enhancing industry profitability. Arguing that it was not inadequate safety regulation but rather stifling economic regulation that initially caused an uptick in train accidents, Back on Track is both a paen to the return of more competitive railroading and the only comprehensive history of the safety of modern American railroads.

Praise for Death Rode the Rails

"A masterful study of the complex evolution of railroad safety."—American Historical Review

"Students of rail safety, and today's Class I railroad managers, need to read this volume."—Trains

"Aldrich has created a masterpiece. His research is extensive, drawing on a rich variety of obscure yet relevant sources."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"One of the first large-scale scholarly studies of railroad safety in America."—Railroad History

"A thought-provoking and well-grounded contribution to the history of American economic development."—Journal of American History

"Pioneering... A central message of Aldrich's book is that 'little accidents' played a crucial though until now largely hidden role in the gradual evolution of a risk society."—Technology and Culture

"A work of merit... essential reading for historians of transport safety, business, and technology."—Journal of Transport History

"Impressive and thoroughly researched... Demonstrates how railroad safety evolved from the intersection of market pressures, technology, and public sentiment."—Journal of Southern History

About the Author

Mark Aldrich is the Marilyn Carlson Nelson Professor of Economics emeritus at Smith College. He is the author of Safety First: Technology, Labor, and Business in the Building of American Work Safety, 1870–1939 and Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828–1965.

Endorsements

"An impressive successor to Aldrich's previous works on railroad and industrial safety, Back on Track fills a significant gap in the literature and should have broad appeal for institutional economists, historians of transport and technology, and non-specialists interested in the railroad industry. The book enhances Mark Aldrich’s reputation as the world’s foremost expert on the economics of railroad safety. In a superbly documented work, he places moderns concerns over a spate of railway accidents into historical context, ably demonstrating that ill-advised economic regulations have imperiled safety and contributed to needless human suffering."

- Albert J. Churella, author of The Pennsylvania Railroad, Volume 1: Building an Empire, 1846–1917

"Mark Aldrich’s Back on Track updates wonderfully his earlier book, Death Rode the Rails. His narrative and conclusions are insightful, his research extensive, and his writing style engaging. Aldrich never fails to place happenings into an understandable context, creating a valuable and enduring study. "

- H. Roger Grant, author of Railroads and the American People

"After 1965, accidents on America's railroads grew at worrisome rates. This authoritiative study combines economics, business, and technological history to explore why the mayhem grew and how managers, workers, and regulators improved safety after the 1970s. Aldrich has produced an accessible look at a fascinating industry and the business-government relations that shaped it."

- John K. Brown, author of The Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831–1915: A Study in American Industrial Practice

9781421424163 : back-on-track-aldrich
Electronic book text
304 Pages
$59.95 USD

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