March 27, 2015

Get Railroads Back on Track | Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register

For many years, energy conservation campaigns have been considered very "green" - that is, good for the environment. Yet the United States may be missing the train, literally, in an important way of reducing energy use.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., recognize that in a bill they are sponsoring. It would promote new investments in railroads.

As Manchin points out, the federal permitting process for highway projects was streamlined in 2012, to get more of them out of the planning stages and into construction. The same thing needs to be done for rail projects.

Railroads once were a mainstay of high-speed transportation of goods in this country. But more miles of highways and low-cost diesel fuel for decades resulted in a shift away from railroads. Thousands of miles of track were abandoned, sometimes torn out to create hiking and biking trails.

Many shippers still rely on railroads for at least some long-distance movement of freight. Manchin said railroads "move 29 million carloads a year and take millions of trucks off the road."

Making more use of rail shipping requires "critical investments ... to remove bottlenecks and improve the efficiency of the system," Manchin added.

Especially now, that is something Americans should desire, for two reasons. First, of course, is the amount of diesel fuel that could be saved, thus reducing our dependence on other nations for oil. Second is the potential to reduce air pollution.

Railroads are much more efficient than trucks in moving cargo. A ton of freight can be transported 457 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel in a locomotive, according to the Association of American Railroads.

But don't take it from the industry: Rail transportation is as much as seven times more efficient as trucking, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. And during the past quarter-century, railroads have become about 44 percent more fuel efficient.

Manchin and Blunt are right: Regulatory obstacles in the way of improving the nation's rail system should be eased greatly. That could pay off in less costly consumer goods - as well as cleaner air.

By:  Editorial