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Policy Issues

​​​​​​​​​​​What Candidates Need to Know About Freight Rail This Election Season 

As the 2016 election unfolds, candidates regularly discuss the need for accelerated economic growth and greater prosperity for more Americans.​​ Freight railroads, which generated nearly $274 billion in output, 1.5 million jobs and $33 billion taxes in 2014 alone, move the United States economy, driving commerce by safely, efficiently and affordably connecting businesses, goods and people. The industry is a critical connector, indispensable to the nation's economy, moving a variety and large quantity of goods required for a modern economy and quality of life.


Get to Know Freight Rail: 10 Fast Facts
Macro Policy Recommendations​
AAR Policy Positions Deep Dive​


​Get to Know Freight Rail: 10 Fast Facts

1. The U.S. rail network spans over 140,000 miles.
America's privately owned freight rail network spans over 140,000 miles and is made up of 107.3 billion pounds of steel – enough to build 6,667 Eiffel Towers. If the network were laid end to end, it would make 5.6 trips around the earth.​

2. Freight rail helps maintain our quality of life.
Freight rail plays a crucial role in maintaining our quality of life in a number of different ways. They transport the chemicals used to purify our drinking water, fertilizers used to grow crops, cars that move workers and families and materials to build homes a​nd businesses.​

3. Freight rail serves many customers.
The industry serves myriad customers, including nearly every industrial, wholesale, retail and resource-based sector of the economy. Adjusted for inflation, rail rates have fallen 42 percent since 1981.

4. Freight railroads are unique in their scale of operations. 
One rail car of wheat is enough to produce 258,000 loaves of bread; one rail car of coal is enough to provide electricity for 21 homes for a year; one train can carry 750 automobiles and one rail car of corn is enough to supply the lifetime feed requirements of around 37,000 broiler chickens.

5. Freight rail has a huge economic impact.
The economic impact of the industry is staggering: In 2014, freight railroads generated $274 billion in economic activity and $33 billion in tax revenue. The impact of rail spending in 2014 was nearly equal to the GDP of Finland, and the industry's state and local tax generation was greater than the taxes collected by 30 individual states.

6. Freight rail helps support jobs in many industries across the country.
Freight rail supported nearly 1.5 million jobs—and $88 billion in wages—in a number of different industries across the country in 2014. 

7. Freight rail helps move huge amounts for each American.
Together with trucks and barges, freight trains help move an average 54 tons of goods per American each year.

8. Freight rail is one of the most environmen​tally friendly ways to move cargo
A freight train can move a ton of freight 473 miles on only one gallon of fuel. Moving freight by rail instead of truck leads to a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

9. Railroads have spent $26 billion in private money over the last five years.
Railroads make huge investments to ensure operations are as smooth and efficient as possible, spending around $26 billion a year over the last five years in private money—not taxpayer funds—to modernize equipment, maintain infrastructure and develop innovative technology.​

10. The American freight rail network is one of the s​afes​t freight transportation networks in the entire world.
Freight rail moves 2.5 million carloads of plastics, fertilizers and other chemicals from coast to coast every year. A full​ 99.999 percent of shipments containing hazardous materials reach their destinations without incident. And in 2015, nearly 2,000 first responders learned how to handle derailments at the industry's testing headquarters in Colorado, while more than 800 received online training.​​

The freight railroad industry recognizes that to spur significant economic growth, policymakers must advance macro-policies that extend beyond railroads. We call on all candidates to advance these important policies:​

Tax Reform
We need a simpler and fairer tax code, reducing the corporate rate – the highest in the industrialized world – to a globally-competitive level to broaden the tax base, enhance U.S. economic development, promote growth and reduce debt. Policymakers across the ideological spectrum should work together to simplify our 70,000-plus pages of tax code, close loopholes that pick winners and losers, increase transparency and put all expenditures on the table to create agreement and keep American companies at home. Tax reform was bipartisan in 1986 when it was last comprehensively tackled and it can be again in 2017. ​

Regulatory Improvement
Policies should be empirically driven, supported by cost-benefit analysis and geared towards today's innovation economy. Too often government makes rules in a vacuum and without an eye toward the future. Policies can become quickly outdated when reacting to the issue of the day, which can sometimes compel overreaction. We must make the process more transparent and collaborative, and we must reduce the estimated $2 trillion compliance cost and hold decision makers accountable.

Infrastructure Investment
Elected officials must institute a system that eliminates the practice of transferring money from the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund. Policies should require highway users, such as trucks and everyday drivers, to pay for their fair use of infrastructure and put in place sustainable and realistic plans that will improve transportation and create jobs. Policymakers should move forward with aggressively updating our crumbling infrastructure and seek to emulate privately owned freight rail to understand that deferred maintenance is not an option. Investing in infrastructure is truly investing in our nation's future.

Comprehensive Energy Plan
We must embrace the innovation that led to the American energy revolution, helping our country move closer to energy independence. No single form of energy will help deliver for any one community, so we must avoid a one size fits all and truly embrace an "all-of-the-above" strategy to best leverage the available energy resources. Traditional resources such as coal, ethanol, crude and natural gas, as well as alternative sources like wind and solar, all can power communities, all can create jobs and all must be a part of the energy portfolio. Federal policies should not favor certain energy forms, nor should they unnecessarily strangle growth in the name of ideology. America needs a comprehensive federal energy plan that enables local solutions that keep costs down and job gains up.

Fair and Open Trade

Free trade helps small businesses reach new markets, diversifies inventory of available goods and fosters the competition that undergirds American capitalism. Efficiencies and productivity gains have reduced the manufacturing work force. But still today, one in four manufacturing jobs depends on exporting goods, and according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, factories have nearly doubled output over the last twenty years. Trade today supports 40 million quality jobs. We must ensure that current and future agreements are fair and put American workers first, but we must not turn our backs on the free trade agreements that have brought prosperity to American workers. A new administration should further the work of the Obama Administration, cementing deals with European and Asia-Pacific nations while strengthening ties with Canada and Mexico. ​

​AAR Policy Positions Deep Dive