Freight Rail Policy Stance: The government should do more to speed up the permitting process of freight rail infrastructure projects. Delays in permitting slow down the modernization of rail infrastructure and cost the rail industry billions of dollars each year, which could otherwise be invested back into the network.
Freight rail infrastructure projects — such as building facilities to improve service for local companies — often require federal permitting. But some freight rail projects face major permitting delays because of local opposition.
Railroads try to work with local communities to find a mutually satisfactory arrangement, and these efforts are usually successful. But when agreement is not reached, projects can face lawsuits, seemingly interminable delays and sharply higher costs. Rail capacity, and railroads’ ability to provide the transportation service upon which our nation depends, suffer accordingly.
The federal government recognizes the economic problem that the permitting delays create — how can the nation’s economy continue to rely on freight railroads to support U.S. global competitiveness if they cannot improve railroad infrastructure?
Congress stepped in to pass the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. The measure included significant reforms, such as expanding the use of categorical exclusions for rail projects. But more can, and should, be done to ensure that reviews of railroad (and other) infrastructure projects be shortened in ways that do not adversely affect the quality of those reviews.