Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.4 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Summary Only

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback64 pages $24.00

The volume of freight transported in the United States is expected to double in the next 30 years. An increased use of rail freight could allow the supply chain to accommodate these increased volumes while minimizing highway congestion and improving energy efficiency in the transportation sector. Shippers and policymakers are concerned that the existing infrastructure — much diminished after decades of track abandonment — lacks sufficient capacity to accommodate the increased demand for rail freight. 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. 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 railroad system is privately owned and operated, but there is a public role for easing rail capacity constraints because private decisions about transportation investment and freight shipping have public consequences for safety and the environment. A better understanding of the public and private cost trade-offs between shipping freight by truck and by rail is needed. Improvements to data quality and freight-modeling tools will improve the ability for policymakers to better target public investment in the rail freight transportation system.

This research in this report was supported by the UPS Foundation and conducted by RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.