Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Claire E. Pavlik


North American railways were crucial to the integration of national territories from the mid-1850s through the 1920s. In the US, Canada, and Mexico, their development supported population settlement, resource extraction, industrialization, and the expansion of markets to regional and national spatial scales. From the 1920s, rail's dominance in transportation declined as highways and trucking developed. Strict railway regulation and direct government ownership, motivated by earlier rail firm abuses, limited railways' strategic adjustment to trucking competition and aggravated the problems of falling revenue and decreasing profitability. From the 1970s, however, a dramatic shift began as three prongs of economic liberalization were implemented: deregulation of the industry, privatization of state-owned firms, and the liberalization of controls on foreign direct investment.

This dissertation characterizes the liberalized governance regimes that have emerged, evaluates changes in the industrial and geographic organization of the freight rail industry, and examines significant episodes of regional rail restructuring involving the dominant Class I firms. Shifts in governance are examined by outlining pre-reform regulatory regimes in the US, Canada, and Mexico, then discussing the step-wise sequence of changes enacted in each country that significantly reduced restrictions on freight rail firms' business options (Chapter III). Liberalized governance enabled changes in the industry's organization, including its firm-size distribution, privatization of state-owned firms, and consolidation, as firms employed hitherto restricted strategies to restructure their assets and activities (Chapters III and IV).

Case studies of regional restructuring, designed to highlight the interplay of regulatory governance, intra-industry competition, and firm strategies, include: the consolidation of firms in the Eastern US and the privatization of Conrail (Chapter V); the consolidation of firms in the Western US and the impact of increased rail container traffic on infrastructure and operations (Chapter VI); the expansion of freight rail ownership, investment, and traffic patterns integrating the NAFTA countries (Chapter VII); and comparison of the strategies adopted by CPR and CN, the dominant Canadian firms (Chapter VIII).

Research materials included official and trade organization statistics, corporate reports, the trade press, and mapping datasets of rail lines. Numerous maps illustrate the changing geography of the North American freight rail industry.


economic geography, railroads, deregulation, North America


xx, 401 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 372-401).


Copyright 2007 Barton Emmet Cramer

Included in

Geography Commons