Tried and True Will Help Lead Recovery

By John T. Evers, PhD | August 19, 2020

Our state has been on the front lines of a battle that has taken a devastating toll, requiring heroic sacrifice on the part of health workers and first responders, isolation measures unprecedented in modern history, and a dramatic upheaval of daily life.

Fortunately, our efforts are beginning to pay off with a flattened curve, and reopened businesses.  And as we attempt to get back to ‘normal’ we will continue to depend upon the bedrock “essentials” that have worked to keep us safe, restock shelves and move critical goods.

Logistics companies, while not on the medical front lines, have adapted and stepped up to keep the supply chain moving. In an average year, an interconnected network of planes, trains, ships and trucks works together to move 54 tons of goods for each person in the U.S.

Railroads, for example, carry everything from food and essential consumer items to chemicals required for medicines and water purification, energy sources used to generate electricity and even the pulp for producing toilet tissue. Though they have been hit hard like other sectors of the economy, railroads along with their suppliers and contractors, have adapted to move essential goods and continue to transform to serve the modern economy.

This should come as no surprise as in some ways as rail is an essential industry that operates 24/7/365 during economic downturns and extreme weather events. They have been a part of the response to every national emergency since the Civil War. And railroads will help facilitate the next recovery.

Since 1980, U.S. freight railroads have spent and invested over $710 billion to transform their network and operations. This has made U.S. freight railroads the envy of the world: shippers can move almost twice as much as they could 40 years ago for roughly the same price, while fuel efficiency has doubled. Railroads continue to be roughly four times as fuel efficient as moving freight on the highway, which means every ton moved by rail instead of truck emits 75% fewer greenhouse gases.

It’s also worth noting that the spending that fuels this innovation comes at the expense of the railroads themselves rather than taxpayers. The vast majority of American’s freight railroads own, build, maintain, operate and pay for their infrastructure with little or no government assistance. That record of private investment extends to the current moment, as the large freight railroads are the only part of the cargo supply chain that have not required government funding.

As we begin to contemplate how to re-constitute our way of life, it is a comfort to know that the tried and true railroads continue to invest and evolve to ensure our fragile economy has a backbone on which to rely.

John T. Evers is Senior Director of Government Affairs at The Business Council of New York State.