USDOT Should Take the Lead on Rail

Written by Meredith Richards, President, and Michael Testerman, Executive Director, Virginia Rail Policy Institute
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An open letter from Virginia Rail Policy Institute President Meredith Richards and Executive Director Michael Testerman to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the Institute’s National Freight Strategic Plan Critique.

Dear Secretary Buttigieg: 

The Virginia Rail Policy Institute congratulates you on your appointment as United States Secretary of Transportation. We wish you much success in transforming our nation’s transportation system to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

In the waning days of Secretary Elaine Chao’s term, the United States Department of Transportation issued the National Freight Strategic Plan. Many years in the making, this plan falls far short of delegating any new mobility responsibilities to the rail freight industry over the next quarter century beyond the status quo and maintaining rail freight’s meager market share. 

Virginia Rail Policy Institute has prepared and enclosed a four-page National Freight Strategic Plan Critique (download below)which calls for the USDOT to take the lead in fostering greater reliance on the rail mode for freight transportation as the United States transitions to a carbon-free global economy. 

Much of the rail mode’s ability to leverage new technologies and operating practices will depend on implementing high-performance infrastructure, with uniform engineering specifications, across the corridors of national significance. The 1956 Eisenhower National Interstate and Defense Highways Act is a compelling example of this approach. A rail example you may be familiar with is the South Shore Railroad’s double-tracking project, which implements uniform, high-performance engineering standards throughout. 

Former Federal Railroad Administrators Gil Carmichael and Joe Boardman each in their time promoted visions of a uniformly upgraded national rail system of electrified corridors for shared use by both freight and passenger rail. We encourage you to pick up where Carmichael’s Interstate 2.0 left off, articulating a new federal vision for the rail mode (perhaps the Biden National Steel Interstate System). 

The Virginia Rail Policy Institute also encourages you to adopt the policy that rail’s 21st century role is to provide time-sensitive freight and passenger capacity in corridors of national significance where highway dependency is prohibitively expensive and/or environmentally detrimental.



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