Vital to international competitiveness.
On the world market, nations compete to supply food and manufactured products. Transportation is a key component of the cost of everything moved and sold. Asia and Europe are investing heavily in high level-of-service intermodal rail, which will leave US goods without comparably efficient transportation options unable to compete as oil supply tightens and fuel prices increase. Transportation researcher Alan Drake reports that currently U.S. investment in rail transportation and, indeed all infrastructure, lags that of international competitors:
Just 3% of Switzerland’s transportation energy is used by electrified rail, but the Swiss transport 1/3rd of their freight tonne-km and 1/6th of their passenger-km with that 3%. This success helps explain why the Swiss voted to invest 31 billion Swiss francs over twenty years in improvements to their already excellent rail system. Adjusting for population and currency, an equivalent American investment would be more than $1 trillion...
The People’s Republic of China is spending about 9% of their GDP on infrastructure, including electrifying 20,000 km of existing rail lines, building 20,000 km of new rail lines, high speed passenger rail lines plus a couple of New York Cities worth of subways. The United States of America is spending just 2% of our GDP on infrastructure and almost none of that spending will help us adapt to an oil constrained future, or reduce carbon emissions.
France, among other goals, wants to electrify “every meter” of French rail and “burn not one drop of oil” by 2025. They also plan to double the low modal share of rail freight by 2022.[Drake, A., An American Citizen’s Guide to an Oil-Free Economy: A How-To Manual for Ending Oil Dependency With valuable bonus information on Saving Our Economy, Our Planet and Strengthening Our National Security, unpublished manuscript, 2010, copied with permission of the author.]
By developing a national network of efficient Steel Interstate service for long haul transportation, the U.S. will have the transportation speed, reliability, and cost savings necessary to deliver its products to world markets competitively.
Lower cost of goods sold domestically and public investment infrastructure costs.
Transportation is also a key component of the cost of all manufactured and agricultural products moved and sold within the U.S. This includes domestically produced goods, as well as those transported inland from ports of entry. The availability of efficient Steel Interstate service helps keep the cost of goods low to the buying public, and offsets core inflation.
Transportation researcher Alan Drake's exploration of the macro-economic benefits of a Steel Interstate-type rail system for the U.S. lead him to conclude that not only will the Steel Interstate increase overall economic productivity, but also, if we commit to the necessary public investment required, the Steel Interstate System would help shield the nation's economy from risk related to oil price increases and supply interruptions and exploding highway infrastructure maintenance and construction costs:
Electrifying, expanding capacity, eliminating bottlenecks and speeding up freight rail will significantly lower costs for freight shipments while increasing reliability of delivery. The savings and increased efficiency in transportation, one of the principal factors of production, will spread throughout the economy and provide support for general economic activity. And it will muffle the impact of an oil supply emergency.
Maintaining an electrified and expanded rail system, once built, will cost much less than maintaining the Interstate Highway System for trucking. The savings from reduced highway maintenance and expansion due to fewer trucks can pay for much, or all, of the required rail investment. Trucks and weather are the two main causes of highway maintenance; damage to highways is proportional to the 4th power of the axle weight. One heavy truck does more damage than 5,000 compact cars, and pays far less in fuel taxes than those 5,000 cars combined.
The macro-economic advantages of positively and pro-actively transforming one major sector of the economy will help buffer the impact on all other sectors of the economy once world oil exports peak. That peak in world oil exports may have been five years ago in 2005 (the highest to date) or a new peak in world oil exports may be reached in 2030 (the most optimistic projection)...
Starting today, we could stay “ahead of the curve” for a 2030 peak in world oil exports, but only with dedicated efforts. In the much more likely case that the USA will import less oil every year from this year forward, a maximum effort to build and promote oil-free transportation is clearly necessary.[Drake, A., Ibid.]
Democratizing land transportation.
Public investment in expanding intermodal rail access to all shippers would increase rather than reduce competition. Capacity would be available for many users and services not feasible on today’s limited rail system. Current rail company plans for container and crane-lift-only intermodal terminals differentially favor those larger shippers who can afford specialized compatible equipment, and leave many small and independent truck operators – and the small business tax base and employment they represent – shut out of the economic advantages of intermodal rail and vulnerable to the next major spike in fuel cost.
The Steel Interstate will bring public investment to expand intermodal rail to the widest possible span of shippers and transporters. By adding open intermodal service that can carry all trucks to the limited menu of container and crane-lift-only services presently offered by the Class 1 railroads, competition in the transportation sector will be preserved and small businesses and the jobs they provide will have equal protection from fuel price spikes and an equal share in the economic benefits of public rail investment.
Increased Transport Productivity.
Current national reliance on trucking to move mid- to long-distance freight greatly inhibits transportation productivity because it is very expensive compared to rail. Trucking also is far more costly from environmental, health, safety, and fuel consumption standpoints. The Steel Interstate will provide capacity needed to transfer as much truck-based freight to rail as possible, lowering cost, fuel consumption, and pollution. Truckers will still be needed, but on their longer hauls will be carried aboard trains, where they can meet mandated crew rest requirements while their cargoes continue to move. This will shorten delivery cycles and further boost productivity. Shorter haul job opportunities will open shuttling containers and trailers to and from railroad intermodal terminals, resulting in both the rail and trucking modes performing the types of service they do best and enhancing the productivity of the freight movement.
Transportation researcher Alan Drake states that the increased transportation productivity of a Steel Interstate-type rail system will ripple out to benefit the entire economy. He says that the return on that investment far outstrips similar investment in highway expansion.
The more society uses roads, the more expensive and slower road transportation becomes. Highway and road expansion projects show that the marginal cost for increased road capacity is higher, usually far higher, per lane mile or vehicles per hour than the inflation adjusted cost of the original road. And the USA is having increasing difficulty in just maintaining the roads we inherited, much less an ever expanding network.
The opposite is true for rail. Extra capacity on existing right-of-way (ROW) is usually significantly cheaper than the base cost. The more we use rail, with appropriate infrastructure investments, the cheaper and faster transportation by rail becomes.
Increasing the rail modal share of freight will also significantly reduce highway maintenance for even greater economic savings.
Roads have unrestricted access and need to be sized to meet peak demand. Roads also create their own demand over time, thus we simply cannot build “enough” roads, or buy enough oil to operate on them. Clearly, more roads are simply not the answer.
Trains are scheduled and routed and their demand can be managed with creative dispatching, adequate track capacity and state-of-the-art signaling. These strategies expand rail capacity very cost effectively, reduce transit times and lower unit costs. So greater use of electrified railroads is an essential part of the answer.[Drake, A., Ibid.]
Drake goes on to explore the life-cycle cost advantages of implementing Steel Interstate technology over equivalent highway widening,
Significant funds will be invested internally in long lived, energy efficient, productive infrastructure rather than exported to pay for oil. The choice for our future, and our grandchildren’s future is between being saddled with difficult to pay IOUs or enjoying the benefits of a modern, efficient oil-free transportation system “Made in the USA”.[Drake, A., Ibid.]