When researchers analyzed road congestion in 1982, drivers in only one U.S. city experienced an average of more than 40 hours of traffic delays annually. This level of traffic congestion is now the reality in more than 100 U.S. cities. And it’s a reality that highlights an opportunity for Congress in modernizing the nation’s surface transportation laws through the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
As U.S. infrastructure struggles to meet the needs of today’s population, an even bigger test is coming: By 2045, America’s transportation system will need to help move 70 million additional people alongside a 40 percent increase in freight volume.
So, as Congress works to update this law, we see two key opportunities for lawmakers to provide more transportation choices; ensure more reliable commute times; and raise the bar for reliability, safety and sustainability across America’s transportation systems. Let’s prioritize the nation’s rail network and position the country to lead on transportation electrification.
The reauthorization of the FAST Act is our nation’s chance to increase public investments and advance policies that incentivize private investments across the nation’s passenger and freight rail system – a system that, unlike highways or aviation, has never had predicted, reliable federal funding.
This will go a long way towards relieving the major bottlenecks and chokepoints, while increasing track, tunnel, bridge and station capacity. Additionally, investments in transportation electrification and alternative fuel technologies will provide Americans with more choices and increase the sustainability of the nation’s transportation network.
By prioritizing rail investment, Congress can send a strong message that our country is ready to meet the growing mobility and sustainability challenges that we face. The reauthorization of FAST will provide the necessary resources and opportunities to ensure that public transportation remains a vital cog and solution to meeting our future
We are optimistic that Congress will draft a bill that helps to improve the safety, reliability and productivity of the nation’s rail transportation system. This legislation should include increased capital investments in our intercity passenger rail system, paired with investments designed to improve the efficient movement of freight through public-private partnerships. In addition, digital rail infrastructure applications should be incentivized as part of eligible public investments to provide better reliability, efficiency, and lengthen the life of rail assets. These applications ultimately advance rail and transit safety, performance and energy efficiency for both commuter and intercity passenger rail.
The FAST Act reauthorization is also an opportunity to modernize our nation’s approach to enhancing safety at highway/rail grade crossings. A more modern approach would allow states to utilize federal funds to replace functionally obsolete crossing protection systems with today’s state-of-the-art, digitally enabled systems.
As a nation, we are way behind in electrifying our rail networks. Worldwide, nearly one quarter of all railroad miles are electric-powered, but in the U.S., that figure is less than one percent. This is largely the result of high upfront capitalization costs, combined with decades of under-investment in passenger railway infrastructure. As Congress looks to embrace a more electrified, connected, low-carbon and digitally enabled infrastructure, we believe increased railway electrification should be a major component of an overall strategy to achieve these worthy goals. Congress should therefore target investments across rail grant programs towards increased railway electrification.
With four out of ten cities in the U.S. not having any passenger rail network, there is a huge potential to expand access to rail and make commutes more efficient and cities better able to manage the growing demand for transportation. One light rail line can create eight times more capacity than one lane of freeway. And unlike our road infrastructure, our intercity rail infrastructure – even as it now carries record numbers of riders – remains underutilized. This is why we firmly believe that public transportation, specifically rail, is the backbone of mobility and sustainability.
By prioritizing rail investment, Congress can send a strong message that our country is ready to meet the growing mobility and sustainability challenges that we face. And the reauthorization of FAST will provide the necessary resources and opportunities to ensure that public transportation remains a vital cog and solution to meeting our future mobility needs.
Editor’s note: Siemens rail vehicles are manufactured in America and operate in nearly 40 cities across the U.S. Did you know we were the first company to deliver 100% U.S. Department of Transportation Buy America locomotives and coaches? You will find our signaling systems keeping the traveling public safe on rail lines from coast to coast. And your roadway journeys are increasingly made smoother by our intelligent traffic solutions. Siemens Mobility USA has stood for excellence in American transportation technology for more than a century and will continue to be a trusted partner in this important work.