Freight Rail Policy Stance: The government should work to ensure greater predictability and transparency in the federal permitting process for freight rail infrastructure projects in a way that speeds project delivery without shortchanging environmental reviews. 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 into further improving and maintaining the rail industry’s world-class network and ensuring our industry’s ability to provide safe, reliable, and sustainable service to meet our customers’ growing freight transportation demand. The rail industry remains committed to providing a timely, focused review of the environmental impacts of proposed projects while also ensuring permitting decisions are made within a reasonable timeframe.
During certain freight rail infrastructure projects, such as replacing a pre-existing bridge destroyed during a natural disaster, the federal permitting process can require that environmental reviews operate on the assumption that pre-existing infrastructure was not present and that such projects be treated as if an entirely new bridge is being constructed.
This can result in lawsuits, seemingly interminable delays in replacing pre-existing infrastructure, sharply higher costs for such projects, and reduced rail capacity, which ultimately harms railroads’ ability to provide the transportation service upon which our nation depends.
To improve the federal permitting process, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. This measure included significant reforms, such as expanding the use of categorical exclusions for rail projects. However, more can and should be done to ensure that reviews of railroad (and other) infrastructure projects are shortened in ways that do not adversely affect the quality of those reviews.