America’s freight railroads operate a vast, 140,000-mile outdoor network of track, bridges, tunnels, rail cars, locomotives and other infrastructure and equipment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Adhering to the mantra “a well-run railroad is a safe railroad,” the industry’s ongoing commitment to robust investment, technological modernization and improved operating models drive safety gains while enhancing efficiency across the network.
Data show a direct correlation between increased investment in the rail network and enhanced safety performance; since 2000, America’s Class I railroads have spent $439 billion on network maintenance and capital expenditures while the train accident rate dropped 34%.
This investment also funds the development and deployment of new inspection technologies — from track-side detectors to ultrasound, machine imaging, big data and drones — designed to monitor infrastructure and equipment health. These tools enable railroads to increase both the frequency and accuracy of inspections — often above and beyond federal regulatory requirements — while the resulting data informs proactive maintenance plans.
Thanks to these and other efforts, America’s freight rail network is largely regarded as the safest, most efficient rail network in the world. High marks from the American Society of Civil Engineers in their most recent Infrastructure Report Card is another testament to the quality of freight rail infrastructure; America’s rail network received the highest grade awarded in 2017, a B. This high mark stands in stark contrast to other transportation infrastructure including highways and bridges.