The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) awarded the nation’s freight and passenger railroads their highest grade — a B — in the “2021 Infrastructure Report Card” released today. Overall, ASCE gave the nation’s infrastructure a C- in the quadrennial report.
“The nation’s 140,000-mile rail network is its healthiest ever thanks to $25 billion on average in annual private investments,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “The ultimate mark of success is how railroads safely, reliably and sustainably deliver for customers and communities day in and day out across the country. At the same time, ASCE’s report is an urgent reminder of the need for robust investment into the nation’s passenger rail lines, not to mention infrastructure more broadly.”
In reviewing the rail sector, ASCE cited sustained private investment by the nation’s freight railroads as the primary reason for the network’s good condition. From 1980 to 2020, America’s privately owned freight railroads, spent nearly $740 billion — averaging approximately $25 billion a year over the past five years — on capital expenditures and maintenance expenses related to locomotives, freight cars, tracks, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure and equipment. Those investments break out to over $260,000 spent on average per mile of the freight rail network.
However, ASCE’s scorecard noted that “despite freight and passenger rail being part of an integrated system, there remain stark differences in the challenges faced by the two rail categories.” While most Amtrak’s operations are hosted on well-maintained, privately funded freight rail infrastructure, the railroad has a $45.2 billion state-of-good-repair backlog on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) alone. Those infrastructure-related issues are the largest source of delays on the corridor. ASCE called for significant, overdue investment in passenger rail infrastructure particularly in high-population centers.
Earlier this week, AAR called for new funding streams for passenger rail as a mechanism to reduce passenger vehicle-based emissions. In the same proposal, railroads also urged Congress to address the funding crisis facing the nation’s highways – as evidenced by the D ASCE awarded today. To do this, AAR made common sense recommendations for restoring the Highway Trust Fund to a user-pays system with a short-term fuel tax increase followed by a structured transition to a vehicle miles traveled fee in the longer-term.
As policymakers work to address these persistent infrastructure challenges and advance other priorities, railroads stand as ready partners to craft well-designed, viable solutions that will keep our economy and nation moving forward. The right policies can ensure a healthy, multi-modal infrastructure network and secure the sustained investment necessary to raise the grade for the nation’s infrastructure.