U.S. Freight Railroads
by Cathy Richey
Freight railroads are critical to the economic
well-being and global competitiveness of the United States. They move 42
percent of our nation's freight (measured in ton-miles). This is
everything from lumber to vegetables, coal to orange juice, and grain to
automobiles, chemicals, and scrap iron.
US railroads connect businesses with each other
across the country and with markets overseas. They also contribute
billions of dollars each year to the economy through investments, wages,
purchases, and taxes.
There were 554 common carrier freight railroads
operating in the United States (as of 2002), classified into five groups.
1. Class I railroads are those with operating
revenue of at least $272 million in 2002. Class I carriers comprise only
1 percent of the number of U.S. freight railroads, but they account for
70 percent of the industry's mileage operated, 89 percent of its
employees, and 92 percent of its freight revenue. Class I carriers
typically operate in many different states and concentrate largely
(though not exclusively) on long-haul, high-density intercity traffic
lanes. There are seven Class I railroads, ranging in size from just over
3,000 to more than 33,000 miles operated and from 2,600 to more than
Class I Railroads:
The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSD.
CSX Transportation (CSX).
Grand Trunk Corporation, which consists of the
U.S. operations of Canadian National (CN), including the former
Grand Trunk Western (GTW), Illinois Central (IC), and Wisconsin
Kansas City Southern (KCS).
Norfolk Southern (NS).
The former Soo Line (800), owned by Canadian
Union Pacific (UP)
2. Regional railroads are line haul railroads
with at least 350 route miles and/or revenue of between $40 million and
the Class I threshold. There were 31 regional railroads in 2002.
Regional railroads typically operate 400 to 650 miles of road serving a
region located in two to four states. Most regional railroads employ
between 75 and 500 workers, although four have more than 600 employees.
3. Local line haul carriers operate less than
350 miles and earn less than $40 million per year. In 2002, there were
309 local line haul carriers. They generally perform point-to-point
service over short distances. Most operate less than 50 miles of road
(more than 20 percent operate 15 or fewer miles) and serve a single
4. Switching and terminal (S&T) carriers are
railroads, regardless of revenue, that primarily provide switching
and/or terminal services. Rather than point-to-point transportation,
they perform pick up and delivery services within a specified area for
one or more connecting line haul carriers, often in exchange for a flat
per-car fee. In some cases, S&T carriers funnel traffic between line haul
railroads. In 2002, there were 205 S&T carriers. The largest S&T
carriers handle hundreds of thousands of carloads per year and earn tens
of millions of dollars in revenue.
5. The two major Canadian freight railroads
(Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway ) each
have extensive U.S. operations.
U.S. freight railroads employ about 177,000 people,
the vast majority of whom are unionized. With average total compensation
in 2002 of more than $80,000, freight railroad employees are among the
nation's most-highly compensated workers.
By any measure of capital intensity, freight
railroads are at or near the top among all major U.S. industries. From
1980 through 2003, Class I railroads spent more than $320 billion on
capital expenditures and maintenance expenses related to infrastructure
and equipment. Non-Class I carriers spent billions of dollars more.
These massive expenditures help ensure that railroads have the
capability to offer high quality, safe, and cost-effective service to
meet the freight transportation needs of our nation.
Amtrak Passenger Train
The railroad's official name is the National
Railroad Passenger Corporation. Amtrak began service on May 1, 1971 when
Clocker No. 235 departed New York Penn Station at 12:05 a.m. bound for
Philadelphia. In 1971, Amtrak announced a schedule of 184 trains,
serving 314 destinations.
When service began, Amtrak had 25 employees.
Today, the company employs 22,000 people. Since the beginning,
even-numbered trains have traveled north and east. Odd-numbered trains
travel south and west. Among the exceptions are Amtrak's Pacific Surfliners, which use the opposite numbering system inherited from their
former operator, the Santa Fe Railroad, and some Empire Corridor Trains.
Amtrak serves more than 500 stations in 46 states.
Those not included are Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Wyoming is served by Amtrak Thruway Motorcoaches. Amtrak operates over
more than 22,000 route miles. It owns 730 route miles, about 3 percent
of the total nationwide, primarily between Boston and Washington, DC,
and in Michigan. In other parts of the country, Amtrak trains use tracks
owned by freight railroads. On weekdays, Amtrak operates up to 265
trains per day, excluding commuter trains. Amtrak trains operate every
minute of the entire year.
The Auto Train, which travels between Lorton,
Virginia and Sanford, Florida is the longest Amtrak passenger train with
two engines and 40-plus rail cars.
At 1,480 feet, the platform at Amtrak's Auto
Train station in Lorton, Virginia is longer than the Sears Tower.
At 2,768 miles, the Sunset Limited between
Orlando and Los Angeles is the longest Amtrak intercity passenger
At 86 miles, the Hiawatha, which travels between
Chicago and Milwaukee, is Amtrak's shortest intercity passenger
Passenger Cars: Amtrak operates 2,141 railroad
cars including 168 sleeper cars, 760 coach cars, 126 first
class/business class cars, 66 dormitory/crew cars, 225
lounge/café/dinette cars, and 92 dining cars. Baggage cars make up
the remainder of the fleet.
Locomotives: Amtrak operates 425 locomotives --
351 diesel and 74 electric.
19 Acela Express trainsets currently provide
high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor between
Washington and Boston.
Amtrak owns three heavy maintenance facilities in
Wilmington, and Bear, Delaware and Beech Grove, Indiana, and other
maintenance facilities in Boston, Chicago, Hialeah, FL., Los Angeles,
New Orleans, New York City, Niagara Falls, Oakland, Rensselaer, NY,
Seattle, and Washington, DC.
- Amtrak owns 17 tunnels consisting of 29.7 miles of
track and 1,186 bridges consisting of 42.5 miles of track.
- Amtrak is the nation's largest provider of
contract-commuter service for state and regional authorities
- Through its commuter services, Amtrak serves an
additional 61.1 million people per year.
Amtrak currently provides commuter service for the
following state and regional authorities:
Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC)
Shoreline East (Connecticut)
Virginia Railway Express (VRE)
Amtrak also provides maintenance services for the Sounder
Commuter Rail system in the Seattle area.
Some taxpayer rights advocates object to Amtrak and want it killed. They do the
math and have numbers showing a high cost per rider. However, they aren't doing
the math that shows a far higher cost per rider in the automobile. Doing that
math requires counting the vast subsidies, such as the expensive to build and
maintain highways. Those highways also require police patrols, snow removal (in
most states), and other services. In addition, the death toll on the highways
takes a toll on the economy.
Doing that math also requires counting the vast subsidies to various industries
that are involved in competing (to Amtrak) modes of transportation. For example,
Big Oil relies on "defense" outlays of staggering sums to maintain the flow of
oil from the Middle East. Leaving a trillion dollars out of your calculations in
favor of the automobile is not how you rely at a valid comparison. The Middle
East oil policy began in the Carter years and has been central to USA foreign
policy ever since. An additional military "PAC" (CentPac) was created just to
accommodate it. Since then, another PAC was created to maintain the flow from
Africa as well.
Rail is probably our single best medium-distance and short-distance strategy
going forward, at least for a few decades, when you look at all the costs.
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