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Policy Statement 521 - Rail Infrastructure Investment

 

Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on April 4, 2019
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 28, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2019

Policy 

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports continued maintenance, improvement and expansion of rail system infrastructure needed to provide a strong freight and passenger rail transportation system within the United States to support continued growth of the nation's economy, reduce system congestion, and provide safe and efficient service to meet future demand for freight and passenger service. ASCE also supports the development and construction of an expanded passenger rail transportation system within the United States to include advanced technology high speed ground transportation (HSGT) systems.

Rail infrastructure maintenance, improvement, and development programs should be an integral component of federal, state, regional, and local multimodal transportation service plans and capital investment programs, that support a role for both freight and passenger rail. ASCE also supports a regulatory and financial environment that encourages continued private investment in the nation's freight railroad system.  ASCE also encourages the use of innovative financing methods to increase funding for both freight and passenger rail such as revenue bonds and tax-exempt financing at the state, regional and local levels, public-private partnerships, and state infrastructure banks.  

ASCE supports state level short line assistance programs to provide low interest loans and grants to modernize these rail lines as necessary to accommodate heavier loads (to 286,000-pound standard needed for double stack container cars) and increase allowable speeds. 

Issue

From its beginnings in the mid 1820's, the nation's railroad network has been a critical component of the nation's transportation system and has provided the foundation for the movement of goods and people throughout the country. Throughout their history, railroads have spurred development and growth of our cities and towns, provided for the movement of passengers throughout the country, and promoted the development and expansion of business and industry.    

The U.S. passenger and freight rail network is comprised of nearly 140,000 miles of track and over 100,000 bridges. The private freight rail industry owns the vast majority of the nation's rail infrastructure and continues to make significant capital investments to ensure the good condition of the rail network. Rail should play an increased role because of its efficiencies in moving freight, coupled with its ability to help reduce highway congestion, highway fatalities, fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, logistics and public infrastructure maintenance costs by providing an alternative to the transport of freight by truck. Short line and regional railroads provide a connection to major railroads for lower density traffic. However, their investment needs are not readily funded from freight receipts, and they often rely on tax credits, and state and local funding to provide this service. These public investments need to be made to upgrade track to handle larger 286,000-pound rail cars capable of providing service for double stack containers, as well as repair and replace aging bridges.

The population, production and consumption patterns of the U.S. have changed dramatically over the last several decades and an improved rail system is needed to support the country's economy. The U. S. Department of Transportation estimates that by the year 2045, there will be a 41 percent increase in demand for freight movement from 18 billion to 25.4 billion tons across the nation by all modes transport combined.  During this period, the volume of freight being moved on the nation's railway system is expected to increase by 20 percent from 1.6 to 1.9 billion tons 

Intercity rail travel operated almost exclusively by Amtrak provided service to 31.7 million passengers, reaching record levels in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. This represents a total of 6.36 billion passenger miles of travel during that period.  A goal of a 14.5 percent increase in intercity rail ridership to 36.3 million passengers has been established by Amtrak. 

Passenger rail transport faces notable challenges, having the dual problem of aging infrastructure and insufficient funding. Additionally, since the vast majority of Amtrak's network runs on privately owned railroads, Amtrak relies heavily on freight railroad maintenance and system support to deliver passenger service. In FY 2018, Amtrak covered 96 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues but continues to rely heavily on government funding for capital investment. Freight and passenger rail generally share the same network, and a significant increase in rail demand will add to freight railroad capacity challenges.  

Coupled with programs to increase regional and intercity passenger rail and develop high-speed rail, investments in rail are needed to achieve broad benefits for passengers, shippers, and the general public.

Rationale 

To compete in the global marketplace and to enhance quality of life, effective investments in both freight and passenger rail infrastructure must be made and innovative transportation solutions must be considered.  Investments in intercity passenger rail systems, including HSGT systems, are increasingly attractive as part of an overall transportation mobility strategy to provide added capacity and high-quality service.  As congestion on the nation's surface transportation system continues to worsen, it becomes increasingly important to ensure proper investment meets ever-growing demand. 

An efficient, well invested, national rail network allows people and businesses to cost effectively provide for better national mobility. It allows U.S. business to be competitive in the global marketplace, provide better individual transportation options, and ultimately allow the nation's economy to prosper and grow. The U.S. needs to increase its policy focus and priority in funding for strategic investments in freight mobility that can reduce congestion and grow the economy.

ASCE Policy Statement 521 
First Approved in 2006

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