The U.S. freight rail network moves the raw goods and finished products that fuel the American economy, from the electricity powering businesses to the consumer goods filling shopping carts.

This critical, efficient and cost-effective network is the best in the world thanks to railroads’ billions of dollars in annual investments. The U.S. Department of Transportation expects total freight demand to grow 41% from 2015 to 2040, which means the improvements made today are even more important for world-class service, tomorrow.

Quick Facts

  • Privately Owned: The vast majority of America’s freight railroads own, build, maintain, operate and pay for their infrastructure with little or no government assistance.
  • Capital Intensive: Railroads spend more than 40 cents out of every revenue dollar on the rail network, six times more than the average U.S. manufacturer.
  • Record Investments: Railroads have spent more than $660 billion since 1980.
  • Policy-Enabled: Smart public policy gives railroads  the opportunity to make enough money to maintain and modernize the 140,000-mile rail network.
  • Growing the Economy: The net economic effect of freight rail’s investments is profound; every $1 railroads spend generates $10 in other spending in the economy. In 2014 alone, U.S. freight railroads helped spur nearly $274 billion in economic activity and supported nearly 1.5 million jobs across the country. Railroads also generated almost $33 billion in total federal, state and local tax revenues, which helped build schools, pave roads and pay for teachers, police and firefighters, as well as created almost $89 billion in total wages.

Keeping American Industries Globally Competitive

From automakers to homebuilders, manufacturers and utilities, nearly every goods-related industry relies on rail to get their goods to market in the U.S. and beyond.

Average U.S. freight rail rates (measured by inflation-adjusted revenue per ton-mile) were 46% lower in 2017 than in 1981. This means the average rail shipper can move close to twice as much freight for about the same price it paid more than 35 years ago, which helps American businesses stay competitive in the global economy. This essential network also enables railroads to haul one-third of all U.S. exports. In 2014, freight railroads moved 329 million tons of exports, 171 million tons of imports and 11 million tons of international transit freight.

Improving Rail Safety

Thanks to freight rail’s investments in innovative technology, operations and infrastructure, recent years have been the safest in rail history. Since 2000, the train accident rate dropped 44%.

Helping the Environment

Investments in greener technologies, improved freight car designs and more efficient locomotives have helped railroads reduce their energy consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. According to preliminary AAR data, railroads can move a ton of freight an average of 479 miles per gallon of diesel fuel and they are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. That means that moving freight by rail instead of trucks reduces greenhouse gas emissions an average of 75%.

Easing Infrastructure Damage & Taxpayer Burden

The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the rail network a B, the highest grade in their 2016 Infrastructure Report Card. The high mark for America’s privately funded freight rail system stands in stark contrast to aging and overused taxpayer-funded transportation infrastructures, such as bridges and roads. With a single train hauling several hundred truckloads worth of freight, U.S. freight railroads’ infrastructure eases the burden on the nation’s overcrowded highways — and the taxpayers who support them.