#RailDay2021 / April 13th & 14th

Get InvolveDFACT SHEETZoom Background

Freight Railroads: Ever Forward. Always Transforming.

Finding solutions to the challenges our nation and planet face require strong partnerships, innovative thinking and resilient grit. No other industry knows this better than rail, which has been transforming for nearly 200 years to keep meeting America’s changing needs. Fueled by billions of dollars in private investments, America’s freight railroads – the most productive and cost-effective in the world – are helping the nation recover from COVID-19; supporting job creation; addressing climate change and increasing our nation’s productivity and competitiveness.

Powering the economy through private investments.

Railroads operate on a nearly 140,000-mile long network that they almost exclusively own, maintain and pay for themselves, spending an average of approximately $25 billion a year on infrastructure and equipment. Although the American Society of Civil Engineers again rated rail’s infrastructure the best in the nation, the first and last mile short line sections still face considerable upgrade challenges.

Thanks in part to these massive investments, research from Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute found that in 2017 alone, Class I railroads’ operations and capital investment supported over 1.1 million jobs, $219.5 billion in economic output, and $71.3 billion in wages, while also creating nearly $26 billion in total tax revenues. Similarly, a 2018 PwC study found that more than 478,000 jobs depended on short line railroad service.

A responsible transportation solution.

Thanks to targeted investments, innovative technology and evolving operations, railroads are the most fuel-efficient way to move freight over land, with one train (on average) moving one ton of freight more than 470 miles on one gallon of fuel. Greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption. Freight railroads account for just 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA data, and just 2.1% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Freight railroads are also 3-4 times more fuel efficient than trucks, on average.

Resilient, safe and getting safer.

Railroads and their pandemic response teams continue to safeguard their employees and maintain the flow of goods necessary to keep America moving forward into economic recovery. These efforts include delivering chlorine-based disinfectants for water, enabling e-commerce, transporting food and moving energy products to support electricity demands. Additionally, recent years have been among the safest for the rail industry. Thanks to large investments to upgrade and modernize the network, America’s rail industry achieved significant safety improvement across every recorded category over the last 20 years. Since 2000, train accident and hazmat accident rates are down 35% and 64%, respectively, while the rail employee injury rate in 2020 was at an all-time low.

Innovative and customer focused.

Dedicated rail employees use cutting-edge technology to predict and prevent problems before they arise. And with the newly implemented Positive Train Control (PTC) systems on high-volume and passenger lines, on-board computer software can now automatically stop a train in certain instances to reduce specific types of human-caused errors.

Technology also helps railroads meet evolving customer needs. Thanks to improved operations, average rail rates (measured by inflation-adjusted revenue per ton-mile) are 43% lower today than in 1981, meaning the average rail shipper can move much more freight for around the same price it paid 40 years ago.

Protecting communities across the nation.

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. Railroads also work with stakeholders to manage and mitigate the impact of rail crossings on communities.

Key Discussion Points for Railroad Day 2021

The freight rail industry asks policymakers to (1) Oppose all efforts to increase truck length or weight limits, including any pilot programs or special exemptions for commodities; (2) Oppose any legislative or regulatory effort that would adversely impact the economic regulatory balance established under existing federal law; and (3) Support a small increase in funding for personnel in the RRB’s FY 22 budget request, eliminate sequester effect and ensure equality with other federal unemployment benefits.

Oppose longer and heavier trucks.

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 increase TSW limits have routinely been rejected in bipartisan House and Senate floor votes. Any changes overturning current federal law would shift traffic off railroads and onto highways with detrimental impacts on the environment and road infrastructure.

Rail is a safe and an environmentally friendly way to move freight over land. No policies should be introduced that would artificially shift traffic away from rail. Studies indicate that while freight rail accounts for 40% of long-distance freight ton-miles, it only accounts for 2.1% of U.S. transportation emissions. In fact, moving freight by rail instead of truck lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 75%, on average.

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 also released a report in November 2018 identifying 27 research projects focused on pavement, bridges, safety, enforcement, and shipper decisions that need to be completed to more fully evaluate the impacts of heavier or longer trucks on our infrastructure and the safety of other motorists. Since fiscal year 2020, Congress has directed DOT to publish an implementation plan for conducting this research — including timelines for its completion — and has stated that the results of this research should be reviewed before any changes in TSW limits are considered.

Finally, we urge you to oppose legislative language that would permit heavier or longer trucks to operate in individual states. DOT has also 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.

Preserve balanced economic regulation of the railroad industry.

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, railroads have poured nearly $740 billion of private capital into their infrastructure and equipment. Average rates for railroad shippers have fallen 43%, meaning the average shipper can move much more freight today for about the same price they paid in 1980. Since 2000, the train accident rate is down 35%. 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.

Support programs for workers under the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).

The RRB is an independent federal agency that administers retirement, survivor, unemployment, sickness, and Medicare benefits to over 730,000 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 over the last several years have left the agency severely understaffed. Furthermore, save for benefits provided under COVID-relief assistance, railroad beneficiaries are unfairly short-changed by the effects of sequester, a legacy of the Budget Control Act. This peculiarity results in unemployment and sickness benefits for rail employees being cut by roughly 6%.

Lastly, because railroad workers receive their unemployment benefits from the RRB and not from state unemployment funds, it is important to ensure that any federal legislation aimed at augmenting unemployment benefits to the nation’s workforce as part of America’s economic recovery include the stipulation that railroad workers are also entitled to the enhanced benefits. To better serve railroaders critical to America’s rail network, Congress needs to (1) support a small increase in funding for personnel in the RRB’s FY 22 budget request; (2) eliminate permanently the effects of sequester; and (3) ensure that any future federal unemployment benefits provided by Congress apply equally to the railroad workforce.

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.

Learn More