Freight Railroads: Ever Forward. Always Transforming.

The world is rapidly changing, and freight railroads are keeping pace. Fueled by billions of dollars in private investments, America’s freight railroads are transforming and modernizing to better serve America now and in the future. Changing markets, shipper expectations, technological advancements and government policy are precipitating fundamental changes to the way railroads operate, invest, deploy their workforce and serve customers. The result? A new model for a modernized freight rail industry that is more efficient, responsive, safer and greener than ever before.

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Privately Investing So Taxpayers Don't Have To

  • Privately Owned: Railroads operate on a nearly 140,000-mile long network of track they almost exclusively own, maintain and pay for themselves.
  • Robust Investment: In recent years, U.S. freight railroads have spent an average of $68 million daily on infrastructure and equipment to meet growing freight demand and support thousands of businesses that rely on railroads to supply goods and services for the US economy.
  • Highest Rated: The American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently recognized America’s rail network as the highest rated infrastructure in the U.S.

Striving For an Accident-free Future

  • Safety First: Freight railroading is an extremely safe industry and nothing is more important to railroads than safety.
  • First Responder Training: Freight railroads train more than 20,000 local first responders annually and developed the AskRail app to provide emergency personnel detailed information on railcar contents in the event of an accident.
  • Community-focus: Railroads work with stakeholders to keep pedestrians and drivers safe around railroad tracks.

The Most Sustainable Way to Move Freight Over Land

  • Environmentally Efficient: As the most sustainable way to move goods over land, a freight train, on average, moves one ton of freight more than 470 miles on one gallon of fuel.
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data shows freight railroads account for only 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and only 2.0% of the transportation-related sources, while accounting for well over one-third of intercity freight ton-miles.
    • Moving freight by rail instead of truck lowers greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.
    • If just 10% of the freight moved by the largest trucks moved by rail instead, fuel savings would be more than 1.5 billion gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 17 million tons — equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the highways for a year or planting 400 million trees.

The Backbone of America's Economy

  • Affordable Rates: Today, rail rates are 44% lower on average than in 1981.
  • Economic Engine: In 2017 alone, U.S. freight railroads generated approximately $219.5 billion in annual economic activity and supported 1.1 million jobs. (Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, 2017)
  • Trade Connector: Hauling approximately one-third of all U.S. exports, freight rail is a critical connector between small business, major industries and global economies.

Developing & Deploying Innovative Technologies

  • On-Track for Positive Train Control (PTC): As of January 2020, the nation’s largest freight railroads are operating PTC across the vast majority — 98.5% — of the required Class I PTC route miles nationwide. The system will be fully interoperable by the end of 2020.
  • Innovative: Railroads rely on technologies to drive safety, operational and environmental improvements.
  • Employee-driven: Integrated teams of data scientists and software developers use cutting-edge technologies that help rail employees to move beyond simply detecting existing safety issues to predicting and preventing them.

Critical Freight Rail Policy Priorities

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Make Permanent the Short Line Railroad 45G Tax Credit

COSPONSOR: H.R. 510 and S. 203, the Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy (BRACE) Act to make the short line 45G tax credit permanent.

INCLUDE: The short line railroad 45G tax credit in a larger legislative package, most likely surface transportation reauthorization.


America’s rail industry thanks Congress for its support of the Section 45G short line railroad rehabilitation tax credit. 45G allows the nation’s short lines — approximately 600 small Class II and III freight railroads — to preserve and upgrade rail service for thousands of rail customers and communities in 49 states that might otherwise have no rail service. In five states, short lines operate 100% of the freight route miles, and in 36 states they operate more than 25%. Approximately 478,000 jobs depend on short line service. Small business railroads, their customers and the communities in which they operate all benefit from the local investment spurred by 45G. Since enactment of the credit in 2005, short lines have invested over $5 billion in track and bridge upgrades, rail safety has improved and short line tie purchases have increased by more than one million ties per year.

While the recent extension of 45G through 2022 is appreciated, it is now time to make this smart policy permanent. And much of Congress agrees: stand-alone legislation to make Section 45G permanent (H.R. 510 and S. 203) is one of the most widely cosponsored, bipartisan pieces of legislation in Congress, with 300 Representatives and 63 Senators co-sponsoring. Congress should act now to make the 45G credit permanent, with inclusion in surface transportation reauthorization legislation being the most viable option.

Oppose Longer & Heavier Trucks

OPPOSE: All efforts to increase truck length and weight limits, including any pilot programs, or special exemptions for commodities.


As Congress considers solutions for repairing and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure, we urge you to oppose any provisions that would increase maximum truck size or weight (TSW) limits on federal highways. Proposals to TSW limits have been rejected in bipartisan House and Senate floor votes over the past several years. Any changes overturning current federal law would shift traffic off railroads and onto highways with detrimental impact on road infrastructure, costing billions of dollars. Rail is the safest and most environmentally friendly way to move freight over land, and no policies should be introduced that would artificially shift traffic away from rail.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recommended to Congress that no changes be made to federal TSW limits, concluding that heavier and longer trucks would cause billions of dollars in infrastructure damage. Following a request from the Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Research Board released a report in November 2018 identifying 27 research projects focused on pavement, bridges, safety, enforcement, and shipper decisions that are needed to more fully evaluate the impacts of heavier or longer trucks on our infrastructure and the safety of other motorists. Congress has since directed DOT to publish an implementation plan for conducting this research and include timelines for its completion. We believe it is prudent that these research projects be completed before any action is taken to change TSW limits.

Finally, we urge you to oppose legislative language that would permit heavier or longer trucks to operate in individual states. DOT has questioned this kind of piecemeal approach for our interstate highways, finding that it makes enforcement and compliance more difficult, contributes little to productivity, and may have unintended consequences for safety and highway infrastructure.

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Preserve Balanced Economic Regulation of the Railroad Industry

OPPOSE: Any legislative or regulatory effort that would adversely impact the economic regulatory balance established under existing federal law.

WRITE TO THE STB: Urge the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to maintain the balanced economic framework established by Congress that has been the bedrock of STB decisions for almost 40 years. It is crucial that any proposals the STB considers continue to be grounded in sound principles of rail regulation economics and supported by data-driven empirical analyses. It is imperative that railroads are able to compete on an equal playing field with other modes of transportation and be incentivized to invest in new infrastructure, enhanced rail service and improved safety.


The success of the U.S. freight rail industry is a direct result of sound regulatory policy that reasonably balances the needs of railroads, shippers and consumers. This success stems from the current regulatory model, established by the landmark Staggers Rail Act of 1980 and preserved by Congress.

Since partial economic deregulation, train accident rates are down 76%; railroads have poured more than $685 billion of private capital into their infrastructure and equipment; and average rates for railroad shippers have fallen 44%. On average, rail shippers today can move close to twice the amount of goods for about the same price they paid in 1980.

The current system ensures that railroads can continue to provide the safe, reliable and sustainable service their customers, and the communities they serve rely upon. This service ultimately benefits American businesses striving to compete in the global marketplace, as well as the U.S. economy at large.

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Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) Modernization

The RRB is an independent federal agency that administers retirement, survivor, unemployment, sickness, and Medicare benefits to over 750,000 railroad beneficiaries. Wholly funded by railroad workers and the nation’s railroads, the RRB’s annual congressional appropriations requires no outlays and simply allows the agency to access its own trust funds.

Stagnant appropriations in FY 2018-20 has left the agency severely understaffed, with reduced customer service, and unable to meet its mission mandate. To better serve railroaders critical to America’s rail network, the RRB needs $155.8  in FY2021 funding to not only continue the modernization of its 40-year old IT system, but fully staff the agency.

Freight Rail in Your State

Operating across the nation —from Florida coastal ports to the Montana dry plains — U.S. freight railroads make modern life possible by connecting local businesses to markets around the world. Discover how railroads impact your state, including the number of employees and biggest commodities hauled.

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