Can Public Investment in Freight Rail Deliver the Goods?

Any significant shift of freight and passenger traffic from highways back to railways will require a major shift in public transportation policy at all levels of government, according to former railroad executive, Richard L. Beadles.  He is a founder of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute, a non-profit group dedicated to enhancing public understanding of inter-city rail as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of transportation for both people and cargo.
Beadles argues that the Commonwealth of Virginia should create a public rail authority similar to its highly successful port authority and other transportation authorities. Such a strong public agency, he writes, would function as a master-planning organization in order for environmentally friendly freight-rail transportation to have a significant impact on reducing long-haul truck traffic. To formulate sound public policy involving the private railroads, the effort must be organized by the public sector and well-funded by the public and private sectors in partnership.
"A major change in public transportation policy at all levels of government will be necessary to enable the service qualities of rail freight to resemble that of our publicly sponsored highway freight model," he writes. "Equally critical to the success of any such shift would be the role of private rail-freight operators."

Beadles notes that expensive, privately owned rail infrastructure is often underused because of business strategies that place more emphasis on controlling the cost of train crews than on overall asset utilization. More and better rail service will have to be delivered in the marketplace in order for rail to compete effectively with highway freight.

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Publication Date
Jan 6, 2010
Publication Series
The Virginia News Letter