RAND: Railroads may not be able to handle increased freight
The volume of U.S. freight is expected to double over the next 30 years, and a new study said while railroads have improved productivity in recent decades, continued incremental improvements may be insufficient to handle freight volume increases.
The study by nonprofit research organization RAND Corp. said, “Increased use of rail freight is seen as a way to accommodate increased volumes while minimizing congestion on the highway system. However, the U.S. railroad network consists of many fewer track miles than it did several decades ago, and there is concern that it has become congested and incapable of handling additional volume.”
“Concern about railroad capacity constraints appears to be justified. However, capacity is determined by many factors, including operating practices, signaling technology, and car availability, in addition to miles of track,” RAND said. “Given the complexity of the system, there isn’t enough information available today to determine whether rail performance is now stable, declining or improving.”
The report three areas for further research:
' Improved reporting and public dissemination of railroad system and performance statistics to support transportation policy.
' Continued examination of public and private cost tradeoffs between shipping freight by truck and by rail.
' Development of a national freight strategy that balances the private interests of the shippers and the railroads with the public interest associated with the relative social costs of different modes of freight transportation.
The study, The State of U.S. Railroads: A Review of Capacity and Performance Data, is available online at www.rand.org.