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Rail

B

Overview of Rail

Our nation’s rail network is divided into two categories: freight rail and passenger rail. Approximately 140,000 rail miles are operated by freight’s Class I, II, and III railroads. Amtrak operates over a 21,400-mile network, 70% of which is owned by other railroads, also known as host track. Despite freight and passenger rail being part of an integrated system, there remain stark differences in the challenges faced by the two rail categories. While freight maintains a strong network largely through direct shipper fees — investing on average over $260,000 per mile — passenger rail requires government investment and has been plagued by a lack of federal support, leading to a current state of good repair backlog at $45.2 billion. Along our nation’s busiest passenger rail corridor, the Northeast Corridor, infrastructure-related issues caused 328,000 train-delay minutes, or the equivalent of roughly 700 Northeast Regional train trips from Boston, Massachusetts, to Washington, D.C.

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rail infrastructure
Highlights

Approximately 70%

of the 21,400 miles traveled by Amtrak trains

are over tracks owned by other railroads

Between 2017 and 2019,

Amtrak spent $713 million

on state-of-good-repair projects.

In 2018

there was a total of 1.7 million ton-miles per day

transported on our nation’s freight rail network

rail infrastructure

Condition & Capacity

Approximately 140,000 rail miles are operated by Class I, II, and III freight railroads.  Amtrak, the national intercity passenger carrier, operates over a 21,400-mile network. Approximately 70% of the 21,400 miles traveled by Amtrak trains are over tracks owned by other railroads.

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Operations, Maintenance, Funding & Future Need

Over the last 40 years, private railroads have spent over $700 billion to develop the current network; this includes $24.9 billion in 2018 at an average of over $260,000 per mile. Freight railroads determine their project priorities under two categories: mission-critical projects and potentially funded/optional projects. Mission-critical projects include scheduled maintenance and unscheduled repairs. Potentially funded or optional projects include those that reduce bottlenecking, line extensions, information technology solutions, and related capital investments. Private railroads reinvest close to 20% of their operating revenue into infrastructure, and in 2017, $11.5 billion was budgeted for capital expenditures by Class I railroads.

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Public Safety

In 2019, DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reported a total of 11,667 accidents/incidents, a slight increase from 11,247 incidents 10 years ago. Trespassing on railroad rights-of-ways remains the leading cause of rail-related fatalities, growing from 505 in 2017 to 577 in 2019, or 64% of total U.S. rail-related fatalities that year. Collisions at highway-rail grade crossings are the second leading cause of rail-related fatalities, making up approximately 30% of total fatalities. Grade crossing collisions declined in 2018 and 2019 from 2,230 to 2,216, respectively.

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Resilience & Innovation

Improving System Efficiency and Safety

Rail technology development continues to focus on improving system efficiency and safety. Industry technological advances include identifying freight car, locomotive, cargo, and track problems before accidents, damage, or delays occur. Numerous track and infrastructure improvements have been advanced including the use of defect detection vehicles, which detect internal flaws in rails; improved metallurgy and fastening systems, which have enhanced track stability; and research to extend rail life, reduce maintenance costs, and improve safety. Examples include the development of ground-penetrating radar and terrain conductivity sensors that identify below ground surface problems, and cybersecurity systems advancements, including the establishment of the Rail Information Security Committee (RISC) to identify and address future threats.  Railroad-focused technology research and development is supported by the railroad industry-owned Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado.

As required by the FAST Act, DOT released the National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) which identifies opportunities for the national multimodal freight system to improve safety, security, and resilience; modernize freight infrastructure and operations to grow the economy and increase competitiveness; and support data, technology, and workforce capabilities development that improve freight system performance.   

Raising the Grade

Solutions that Work

Support concepts in the National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) that would improve the multimodal freight network, enhance safety, provide for capacity improvements, and improve economic competitiveness. As part of implementing the NFSP, a robust National Asset Management system should be created to support the identification, prioritization, and sourcing of funding for capital investment projects.

Continue a financial and regulatory environment that supports private rail investment and innovative financing options for future investment. This includes maintaining the now permanent federal Railroad Track Maintenance Tax Credit and supporting existing financing programs, such as the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).

Encourage passenger rail infrastructure investment in high-population centers, and support continued investment for state-supported routes. Continue to support rail investment in added capacity and expanded service in high-density markets to relieve system stress on other modes.

Sustain the planning for NEC investments and acquire funding for projects identified in NEC Commission’s multi-year capital investment plan.

Fund regional freight rail investment plans, including the CREATE program, to support efficient operation and reduce delays by eliminating bottlenecks.

For future surface transportation reauthorizations, include and fund programs that reduce hazards at railway-highway crossings.

View Report Sources

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, “Freight Rail Overview.”

Amtrak, “Fiscal Year 2019 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Consolidated Financial Statements with Report of Independent Auditors,” 2019.

3 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, “Freight Rail Overview.”

Association of American Railroads, “Railroad 101: Overview of America’s Freight Railroads,” October 2020.

Association of American Railroads, “Railroad Facts 2019,” 2019.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “U.S. Ton-Miles of Freight.”

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Moving Goods in the United States.”

Association of American Railroads, “AAR Reports Freight Rail Traffic for 2017, December and Week Ending December 30, 2017,” 2017.

Association of American Railroads, “Rail Traffic for December and the Week Ending December 28, 2019,” 2019.

National Railroad Passenger Corporation and Subsidiaries (Amtrak), “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Consolidated Financial Statements With Report of Independent Auditors,” Fiscal Year 2019.

Amtrak, “FY2019 Company Profile: For the Period October 1, 2018 – September 30, 2019.”

Northeast Corridor Commission, “Northeast Corridor Annual Report: Operations and Infrastructure, Fiscal Year 2018,” 2018.

Amtrak, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Consolidated Financial Statements with Report of Independent Auditors, Fiscal Year 2018,” 2018.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, “Overview Reports.”

Association of American Railroads.

Association of American Railroads, “Freight Railroad Capacity and Investment.”

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, “AASHTO Freight Rail Study Support Services,” August 2018.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).

Amtrak, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Consolidated Financial Statements with Report of Independent Auditors, Fiscal Year 2019,” 2019.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, “Overview Reports.”

Association of American Railroads, “Freight Railroads & Positive Train Control (PTC) Fact Sheet,” December 2020.

Association of American Railroads, “High-Tech Advances Improve Railroad Safety & Efficiency.”

Association of American Railroads. “Railroads and Cybersecurity.”


PHOTO ATTRIBUTIONS

Photos Courtesy of the American Association of Railroads

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