They are and they can but there aren't enough of them running the sort of GTK that would make a real world difference .
East coast rail interstates don't have anything like the capacity the road routes do and pass priority takes a not insignificant part of the available capacity .
If interstate roads had single lane bi directional roads with passing lanes there would be parity etc etc .
If busses had absolute priority and nothing else was allowed to pass or run ahead etc etc .
Maybe the question you should ask M is why should so much of everyone's taxes go towards improving the plights of road freight operators .
Part of the answer is that we need land transport to survive because there aren't government services road or rail to provide it .
Ultimately I believe it's in the interests of our economy and consumer pricing to have efficient cost effective land transport but the superior mode can't do it on stone age infrastructure .
Now people seem to think rail freight can be competitive but lets examine the current situation .
Road has supposedly about 90% of the east coast intercapital land freight so to be competitive a rail operator has to be able to provide a better service to get the freight forwarders business . Now if we make the assumption that rail operators have efficient rail terminals and process the wagon rakes quickly and efficiently the rest is up to what happens outside the terminals .
A road operators truck drives out onto the streets and runs for as long as it takes to reach the cargos destination . There is no curfew or car bus priority and road vehicles have every right to access any road route open to the public - with some weigh restrictions on secondary roads . ALL normal road vehicles have equal rights to take up their place pretty much whenever they feel like it .
So interstate trucks have access to modern fairly direct roads and efficiencies are pretty much a given . There is more than enough capacity on most interstate roads and lighter trucks usually sail past slower ones .
Efficient operators are rewarded by high revenue earning freight because the available infrastructure allows them to reliably run tight schedules to keep their customers happy .
For a rail operator to improve their earning capacity they have to attempt to run an efficient cost effective timely reliable service .
To compete with the other mode they have to improve reliability timeliness and offer a competitive price .
Because the operators don't own the infrastructure they can't run whenever they feel like it as per the US etc . Here you pay for a path but nothing is guaranteed because the access provider on a whim can use that path for other services such as late pass trains . In other words all care taken but we don't have a gun to our heads forcing us to give what we get paid for .
Rail cannot break into the high revenue earning freight in the east because the infrastructure even if it was devoid of all other trains is far longer and slower than the road routes so forget being timely .
Rail services cannot be reliable even if they present on time because someone else is controlling access to the rail route and freight trains get low priority .
Pricing is subjective because if you can't be equal to road on journey times and reliability isn't something you have much say in what chance have you got to charge a premium price for the service you are attempting to offer ?
The reality is that east coast rail ends up with the overflow or crumbs basically that road isn't particularly interested in because there is better money to be made with higher priority freight .
So stuck with low value revenue rail can only cut pricing so far and beyond a point the services are not economic to run .
I want you people to tell me how a rail freight operator can attract higher revenue earning freight and run better faster more reliable rail freight services so they can earn enough money to pay for better infrastructure . The short answer is that it's physically impossible to do significantly better without higher priority and more direct routes than we have today .
On the road everybody is equal - pays rego insurance and gets equal opportunity to rum wherever 24/7/365 . Rail pays same thing and isn't equal and can't run whenever and wherever the operators like .
The routes are indirect and dotted with tight radius slow bends - and the sub base is sub standard and full of mud holes and speed restrictions .
At the end of the day a rail operator can have the best locomotives rolling stock etc etc but often it doesn't make any significant difference . A road operator wanting high performance buys new powerful prime movers and sails up the hills on consistent 100 km/h plus freeways and achieves quick journeys . A rail operator can overpower its trains to climb the grades quickly but it achieves SFA when the curve speeds are 50-70 km/h and back to back curves are the norm for significant sections of the entire corridor .
History . Many moons ago rail freight operations were in state government hands and in certain circumstances some superfreighters were given a very high priority which is a large part of why they ran a lot faster and more reliably than they do now .
Privatisation has seen "high priority" freight services given less priority than they've ever had and the situation is getting worse not better . The infrastructure effectively isn't as good as it was in years gone by so the services crawl along with no hope of operating more reliably , more timely so what hope do they have of earning good money .
If you don't earn good money you can't pay good money to make the infrastructure reliable let alone improved or straighter .
Inevitably the freight forwarders favour road transport because rail infrastructure providers don't deliver , and the rail operators can't improve the situation because priority and effective corridors to run on don't exist .
The $64 question is do people have any idea what the transport component of their consumer goods are . Had more of their taxes gone into rail infrastructure than some of the useless ideological failures some pollies have we might have more competitive rail services that push all mode providers to set more competitive pricing . To have competition in the market place competing modes have to be competitive against each otherwise the best mode has little reason not to charge increasingly higher prices . The only thing saving us from that ATM is competition between road freight operators .