Rail congestion is costing United States industry and agriculture hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this week.
Senator John Thune expressed serious concerns about the impact of delays on the rail network, saying: “In all my years of working on rail matters, I have never seen producers more concerned than they are now regarding their restricted capability to move grain to market.”
“It is my hope that this hearing will continue to bring attention to the rail service backlogs that South Dakota shippers, and shippers nationwide, are currently facing, and encourage continued discussion about both short-term and long-term solutions to address these issues.”
The committee’s concerns carry weight, but perhaps they also reflect that the big Class 1 railroads are – to an extent – the victims of their own success: if traffic levels were lower, route congestion would be too.
The solutions are straightforward in principle: more infrastructure where it is needed most, and the rollout of Positive Train Control (PTC) to provide much needed extra capacity on existing routes. The challenge for railroads across North America is the same faced by their counterparts all around the world – funding.
Given the importance of heavy-haul freight in particular to the United States, perhaps central funding on a national network basis represents the best solution. One is sure – the the railways must work together on the network improvements so clearly needed.