Rail shows largest improvement in ASCE infrastructure report card

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its "2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure" on Tuesday, March 19. The report is an assessment of 16 infrastructure categories in the United States that takes place every four years.

Overall, the U.S. received a D+ grade up from a D in the 2009 report. Rail showed the biggest improvement out of all the categories, moving up to a C+ from a C- four years ago.

ASCE credits the grade boost in the rail category to both freight and passenger railroads self-investment and marked rail’s overall willingness to increase spending during the recession to take advantage of lower material costs and relatively longer work windows, due to a decrease in traffic.

To further increase rail’s grade, ASCE made the following recommendations:

• Integrate rail into a national multimodal transportation policy that recognizes and takes advantage of efficiencies in the movement of people and goods.

• Improve passenger rail in dense urban corridor markets and as an alternative to air and automobile travel for intercity markets.

• Increase and expand passenger rail commuter services in urban areas and intercity passenger services linking major cities in the nation’s mega-regions.

• Support a regulatory and financial environment that encourages continued private investment in the nation’s freight railroad system.

“It is truly gratifying that the world’s premier organization of engineering experts recognizes the value and benefits that have resulted from freight railroads making private investments in our country’s rail network infrastructure,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger. “It’s also reassuring that ASCE recognizes that freight railroads need a regulatory and financial environment that will continue to make those private investments possible.”

Also of relevance was the transit category, which remained at a D. ASCE notes that while transit investment has increased, many transit agencies still struggle to maintain their fleets, resulting in service cuts and/or fare increases.

A category covering ports was added to the 2013 report, with a debut grade of C. ASCE cites that while port authorities and their private sector partners have planned more than $46 billion in capital improvements through 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.

The ASCE uses a five letter-based grading system of A through F with A equivalent to an exceptional rating; B equivalent to good; C equivalent to mediocre; D equivalent to poor and F equivalent to failing.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, Bridge/Retaining Walls/Tunnels, C&S, Class 1, Commuter/Regional, Intercity, Intermodal, ON Track Maintenance, Rapid Transit/Light Rail, Safety/Training, Shortline/Regional, Yards & Terminals