Policy Insight, Volume 2, Issue 5, December 2008

Getting America Back on Track: U.S. Public Policy on Railroads

by Brian A. Weatherford, Henry H. Willis

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Abstract

Freight traffic in the United States is expected to increase over the next several decades. Greater use of rail freight would help alleviate the burden that this will place on the nation's transportation system, but the capacity of the existing railroad infrastructure may be insufficient to fully accommodate the additional traffic. To address this concern, proposals before Congress call for new policies that would increase railroad capacity at taxpayer expense. These proposals may be justified by the potential public benefits that would be realized in reduced diesel fuel consumption, fewer highway accidents, and, possibly, less traffic congestion. Getting America Back on Track: U.S. Policy on Public Railroads shows that urgent questions remain concerning how broadly the scope of U.S. public policy on railroads should be expanded. The public sector needs to collect more detailed data to understand where society will benefit most from new rail capacity, develop better intermodal transportation models, and integrate national and local priorities in transportation planning. New public-private partnerships may offer innovative solutions to these concerns.

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