As gas prices climb, railroads may offer a solution

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, some national economists were estimating that gas prices could top $5.00 a gallon. The rising cost of fuel is having an impact on the trucking industry causing a shift and increase in the intermodal process of placing tractor-trailers onto rail cars. The highway trailer or container chassis can accommodate up to 150 53-foot trailers for medium-length hauls between urban areas.

Freight railroads have an increasingly positive impact on the economy, as well as society and the environment. From a public policy perspective, it makes sense to encourage as much of the traffic growth as possible, for rail use rather than trucks. Railroads are five times more fuel efficient, and far more environmentally friendly, than trucks. Forming a system of 5,600 thousand miles of track in PA, freight railroads are the backbone of our transportation network, connecting major markets throughout the northeast.

This shift from road to rail would save commuters an average of 257 gallons of fuel and reduce congestion costs by an average of $770 per household each year according to a recent study. Transporting more freight by rail positively impacts the environment, lowering air pollution, for example, by an estimated average of 882,000 tons annually in the cities studied.

“One freight train can carry as much cargo as 500 trucks and one intermodal container train can carry nearly 300 truck trailers,” said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “The intermodal partnership between the rail and trucking industries combines the best abilities of the transportation modes and is an important solution in the battle against traffic congestion.”

More than 42% of all US freight moves by rail—more than trucks, boats, barges or planes. Railroads carry supplies for our armed forces as well as the coal that provides more than half of the nation’s electricity.

Today’s locomotives are more powerful and can haul the newer, heavier 286,000-pound capacity railcars. A dramatic increase in the number of rail cars is anticipated as a result of the current economic climate, but there is also an anticipated increase in problems like congestion, accidents, sitting trains at grade crossings and labor shortages.

Rod Wilt, PA House Transportation Subcommittee Chair for Railroads said, “We are seeing increased pressures on the rail system everywhere. This is great for the economy of Pennsylvania, however, we do have to anticipate the impact of this growth on our people, infrastructure, local communities and customers.”

Pennsylvania Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Chairman Ken Kertesz, a labor leader for the rail industry, projects a shortage of engineers in his state of Pennsylvania. “While rail service increases, our railroads face an urgent shortage of qualified, well-trained men and women to operate and manage the rail systems. Our existing work force is aging and increasingly stressed to keep up with the influx in rail traffic. We’re seeing need estimates that range from 60,000 to 210,000 new rail labor workers over the next decade. We are looking at ways to work more closely with railroad management to address these shortages,” Kertesz said.

The Department of Transportation has recently estimated that freight traffic will double in the near future and it will require greater levels of investment in the infrastructure, equipment, labor and security of the rail system in order to meet the demands of future rail business.

Sharon Daboin, Deputy Secretary of Aviation and Railroads for PennDOT noted, “Rail freight in Pennsylvania can provide opportunities for economic development in the 21st Century. Efficient freight and goods mobility is critical to local jobs and businesses, as well as to the supplies of food and services that we take for granted.”

The Pennsylvania Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) rep