New Strategies and Funding Needed for National Rail Plan

In an address to more than 200 members of the Railway Industrial Clearance Association, Gil Carmichael, founding chairman of the board of directors of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver and a former federal railroad administrator, said that by soliciting industry input, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has taken a significant step toward creating a new National Rail Plan.

Carmichael said, however, that the FRA could go further in addressing the needs of today’s globalized intermodal transportation infrastructure. "Ten years into the 21st century, we finally realize the United States must produce a new, holistic, sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly intermodal transportation system. This system would use alternative, reusable fuel sources to create an efficient rail-based freight and passenger transportation network," he said.

"The Interstate Highway System of the previous century, created during the era of cheap fuel and serving primarily the highways and airlines, has served the United States well," he said, "but today we have a population that has doubled in 50 years and could reach 400 million people by 2050, creating even greater mobility problems."

Carmichael also stressed that FRA’s 21st century National Rail Plan must include Canada and Mexico. "It will require a working partnership between the federal and state agencies of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and the private sector—especially the freight railroads and the passenger rail segments. This creates a large public works project with jobs that cannot be outsourced. When completed, this project will provide a major asset for a more livable and sustainable continental transportation system with alternative, reusable fuel sources and long-term jobs for at least four decades of this century," he said.

Carmichael said that by double- or triple-tracking at least 30,000 miles of the railroad's main lines, with 100% grade separations, and utilizing new technologies such as GPS, positive train control (PTC) and digital sensors, an ethical and sustainable, rail-based North American transportation system will transform the continent’s infrastructure landscape. He strongly recommends that the U.S. Congress approve two new intermodal trust funds that replace the expiring Intestate Highway Trust Fund to pay for this century’s new infrastructure.

"With proper investments and new technologies, this holistic vision of a North American Rail Network will seamlessly connect all modes of transportation and provide a very safe, sustainable and energy-efficient intermodal infrastructure that reliably moves people from car/transit to train to plane and freight from ship to train to truck," Carmichael claimed. "This rail-based Interstate 2.0 will be the new transportation paradigm for the 21st century."

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