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America’s privately owned freight railroads operate almost exclusively on infrastructure that they own, build, maintain and pay for themselves which sets them apart from their competitors—trucks, barges and airlines. In fact, since 1980, privately-owned freight railroads have invested $600 billion back into the nation’s freight rail network, improving the safety, efficiency and productivity of the industry while making the nation and its businesses more competitive globally. Conversely, America’s highway infrastructure relies on federal and state gas taxes as well as significant funding from the general Treasury. For example, the federal
Highway Trust Fund (HTF) has already required $70 billion in transfers in recent years from the Treasury's General Fund and will syphon over $70 billion more by 2020 under the funding mechanisms of the FAST Act. This trend seriously erodes the user pay principle underlying the Highway Trust Fund and further dilutes the contribution that the trucking industry—a major railroad competitor—pays for its infrastructure.
With approximately 210,000 grade crossings in the United States, railroads work every day with federal, state and local officials and the public to improve grade crossing safety and promote safe driver and pedestrian behavior. To help improve grade crossing safety, railroads also work with
Operation Lifesaver (OLI), a nationwide non-profit organization, to educate motorists and pedestrians on the importance of safe behavior around railroad tracks. Together, the AAR and OLI recently launched the nationwide
See Tracks? Think Train! public service campaign.
Railroads strongly support the federal
Section 130 program, which sets aside federal funds each year to states for installing new active warning devices, upgrading existing devices, and improving grade crossing surfaces. Since its inception, the Section 130 program has helped prevent tens of thousands of grade crossing related injuries and fatalities. From 2000 through 2013, the number of grade crossing collisions fell 40 percent, injuries associated with collisions fell 21 percent and fatalities fell 42 percent. The grade crossing collision rate has fallen nearly every year since 1978.
Under existing law, state and local regulations (other than local health and safety regulations) that unreasonably interfere with rail operations are preempted by federal regulations. These federal regulations protect the public interest while recognizing that railroads form an integrated, national network that requires a uniform basic set of rules to operate effectively. Nevertheless, rail projects often require federal permitting. The FAST Act provides numerous improvements to the permitting review process by eliminating duplicative environmental reviews, accelerating decision-making, and enabling certain categories of railroad projects to be exempted from time-consuming environmental and historic preservation review. These common-sense actions will help accelerate the timeframes from rail project design to actual construction and thereby hasten rail infrastructure upgrades.