Railroads outpace all U.S. infrastructure in new report card

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
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American railroads earned a grade of B for infrastructure while the rest of the U.S. sectors got a barely-passing D+ in the latest report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The quadrennial report depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure across 16 sectors, assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement.

A grade of B indicates infrastructure is “good, adequate for now,” while the D is “poor, at risk.”

The report divides the U.S. rail network’s 140,000 miles of track and more than 100,000 bridges into two categories: private freight railroads and intercity passenger rail, operated almost exclusively by Amtrak.

While capacity across the Class I network is “generally sufficient to meet current needs,” demand is expected to grow amid road congestion and demand for goods increases.

While observing that capacity has been increased via double stack trains and heavier carloads – and that Class 1 railroads own their own infrastructure ¬– the report praised freight railroads for maintaining the condition of the majority of the nation’s track, bridges, and connections at ports and intermodal facilities.

“[The railroads]… proactively maintain, replace, and upgrade systems though maintenance and capital programs. Changes in freight cargo trends in recent years have necessitated changes in the network. Coal, the most commonly transported bulk product by rail, has experienced a decline, while intermodal traffic has experienced substantial growth, requiring investment in connections to ports and truck transfer facilities.

“Freight railroads continue to upgrade their networks to support additional demand with greater capacity, added efficiency, and improved safety. This has required the rebuilding of bridges, tunnels, track, and signal systems,” the report stated.

The report recognized that much of Amtrak’s national passenger rail network outside the Northeast Corridor is owned and maintained by freight railroads, and that the carrier relies on them for maintenance and support.

The NEC, mostly owned by Amtrak, is a different story.

”While safe to operate, much of the NEC’s infrastructure is beyond its useful life, increasing maintenance costs and reducing system reliability,” adding that average age of major NEC backlog projects is 111 years, including 10 moveable bridges, three sets of tunnels, and one viaduct.

“Upgrades and repairs to basic infrastructure items like signals, power systems, and tracks, as well as service improvement projects to add capacity, are needed to meet growth in the northeastern economy and related travel demand. The condition of the NEC continues to deteriorate while projects are on hold pending funding. Amtrak has been left with little choice but to be reactive to maintenance issues due to inadequate funding.”

Read the entire report by clicking HERE.

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