Will trains become obsolete?

A question that I heard from both train enthusiasts and railroad workers, will trains become obsolete? Are trains going away? 

My short answer to this question is that trains will not become obsolete, not now, not in the future.

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Why do I believe trains will not go away?

I believe the chances for trains to become obsolete are close to zero.

Trains in the United States are used primarily for transporting goods, the country has a complex and large railroad infrastructure with over 130,000 route miles.

Just in one typical year, the freight railroads transport over 1.7 billion tons of raw materials and finished goods.

“But this is irrelevant” you might say, “the way of transportation can be replaced with something else”.

The following data might leave you without options of replacing the trains as a way of transportation, both passenger but mostly goods.

Let’s look over some data presented by AAR.org.

U.S railroads, on average, move 1 ton of freight over 480 miles on ONE GALLON OF FUEL. Freight trains are 3-4 times more fuel efficient than trucks.

Yes, you’ve read that right!

Let’s move on…

Railroads account for 40% of all goods transported in the country, but for only 1.9% transport-related greenhouse emissions.

That’s crazy isn't it? Almost half of all goods transported and less than 2% pollution of greenhouse gases. 

And there is more…

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2019 Urban Mobility Report, sitting in traffic every morning on your way to work, evening on your way back, afternoon on your way to your cooking lessons, cost Americans $166 billion in wasted time in 2017.

Railroads help reduce the huge costs of the traffic congestion, one single freight train can replace a few hundred trucks that would be on the roads otherwise. 

At this point in time we have no better alternative, and honestly I can’t see a better one either.

Will trains be around forever?

Trains won’t become obsolete, but their same shape, color and the current way of controlling them won’t stay like that forever, technology evolves, so do the trains.

Compare a steam locomotive with the one of the latest locomotives run by railroads today and you will see the difference. Many things have changed, but the concept is the same, tracks and wheels.

They might not be called trains anymore. But they are still trains.

The concept of wheels on tracks, cars coupled to other cars, pulled by an engine, will probably stick around for a very long time, it is just physics. 

For as long as we need stuff to be transported, trains remain one of the best options.