Congressional Briefing - September 8, 2008

Moving Ahead: Public Choices about U.S. Railroad Performance, Capacity and Cost

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Henry Willis


Monday, September 8, 2008


1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.


2212 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.

About the Program

RAND Policy Researcher Henry Willis will present findings from a report that describes the current state of railroad capacity and performance for freight transportation. Co-author Brian Weatherford will be present to participate in the question & answer period.

The volume of freight transported in the United States is expected to double in the next 30 years. Increasing the proportion of goods shipped by rail could allow the supply chain to accommodate increased volumes while minimizing highway congestion and improving energy efficiency in the transportation sector.

This report draws from publicly available data on the U.S. railroad industry to provide observations about rail infrastructure capacity and performance in freight transportation.

The report concluded:

  • Railroads have improved their productivity in the past three decades, mitigating immediate concerns about capacity, but concerns about future capacity constraints appear to be justified.
  • Insufficient data exist to determine whether rail performance is now stable, significantly declining, or improving.
  • The public consequences of private investment decisions justify a public role in addressing concerns about railroads, but better data and analysis are needed to inform transportation policymaking.

About the Speaker

Henry Willis

Dr. Willis’s research applies decision analytic tools and risk analysis to help decisionmakers choose among competing resource management strategies or policy options. He has applied this approach to maritime and freight transportation policy, homeland security, emergency preparedness, and management of federal research and development programs. Examples of Dr. Willis’s recent research include assessing risk-based approaches to allocating homeland security preparedness resources and assessing personal protective equipment needs of emergency responders working in a post–structural collapse environment. More recently, Dr. Willis has completed two studies of the security of the U.S. freight transportation infrastructure, assessing the appropriateness of container security efforts and the costs and benefits of proposals to inspect containers entering the United States.

RAND Office of Congressional Relations

For 60 years, RAND has provided policymakers with independent, objective research and analysis on key national security, domestic and international issues. RAND work helps members of Congress and their staffs make better-informed decisions on the nation's pressing challenges. The Office of Congressional Relations offers a number of products and services to educate, inform, and facilitate congressional policymakers' access to RAND work, including coordinating congressional testimony by RAND experts, organizing briefings and meetings, synthesizing RAND work into topical e-newsletters and providing reports and publications to congressional offices. For more information, visit the Office of Congressional Relations webpage, contact or call (703) 413-1100 x5395.

Further Inquiries

For further information about this event, contact the Office of Congressional Relations at or call (703) 413-1100 x5395.