Rail freight transportation makes America a low-emissions leader

CRES Forum Vice President of Policy and Research Richard Campbell penned the following piece for the The Hill.

The United States’ railroad system can well be credited with helping to build a modern America and accelerating the industrialization of our country. It is their entrepreneurship that resulted in a system to transports raw materials and goods that support nearly every U.S. industry across the nation. American railroads revolutionized travel and freight shipment, while lowering global emissions.

This week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is examining how rail can continue to reduce emissions. Transportation of goods and commodities by freight rail underpins U.S. economic activity and has been key to the growth that the United States has seen this year, as American companies have emerged from their COVID gloom. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the rail network accounts for approximately 28 percent of U.S. freight movement by ton-miles (e.g., the length and weight freight travels), and the U.S. rail network is “widely considered the largest, safest, and most cost-efficient freight system in the world.”

About 52% of rail freight traffic involves the movement of bulk commodities, including agriculture and energy products, automobiles, construction materials, and chemicals. However, it is the movement of chemicals that has come under great scrutiny of late, with the derailment of a freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year. The federal investigation of the cause of the accident could take upwards of a year to complete.

As a reaction to the East Palestine tragedy, the Railway Safety Act has been in the news as it advances through the U.S. Senate. During this process it is important to remember and recognize the U.S. rail industry is part of our solution to lower global emissions.

Yet, the Biden Administration has jumped into the fray with a barrage of edicts to improve rail safety before the federal investigation has fully determined what happened. This is on par with the Biden Administration’s usual approach to an issue: more regulatory oversight. Attempts to quickly find solutions may very well have the effect of driving up costs for freight rail transportation without having any measurable impact on safety, and they could undoubtedly result in a negative impact on U.S. efforts to lower global emissions.

That’s because increasing costs and the regulatory burden on freight rail transport of goods could result in a shift to trucking transportation on the nation’s highways, with the commiserate consequence of increased emissions. Such overreach by the administration would act to defeat their purported goal to reduce global emissions. According to the American Association of Railroads, technological advances and innovation have resulted in trains being “four times more efficient than trucks, moving one ton of freight 470 miles on just a single gallon of diesel fuel.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated, “[r]ail’s lower fuel consumption also leads to lower carbon emissions overall. Despite handling a third of all intercity freight volume, rail accounts for 2.0% of all transportation-related emissions.”

While the Railway Safety Act is well-intended, it could push more freight to be moved by truck and result in greater global emissions. We should empower the American railroad industry to continue its history of innovation—both for our safety and for our climate.

Read full article HERE.

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