Freight rail common good for commonwealth

With so much emphasis on the high-tech sectors in Boston and elsewhere, it’s easy to overlook the significant role that freight rail plays in our daily lives. Massachusetts, a state of innovation and progress ranked first in the nation last year for jobs in high-tech industries, has also been a hub for trade and commerce for hundreds of years.

Freight railways support local economies across the state and are essential partners as we continue to decarbonize.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts and while officials are prioritizing electric passenger vehicles and public transport, they should also be considering how to keep encouraging rail. Nationally, freight rail contributes just 1.7% of GHG emissions from the transportation sector, despite moving 40% of long-distance freight. That’s because a single freight train replaces hundreds of trucks and emits one quarter of the greenhouse gases per ton-mile compared to trucks.

Whether moving raw materials for manufacturing, goods destined for store shelves, or energy resources for power generation, the 13 different rail operators across Massachusetts keep the wheels of our economy turning while reducing congestion and taxpayer burden for roadway maintenance. Every year enough rail freight starts, ends, or passes through Massachusetts to replace nearly 800,000 big rigs.

Between short line railroads like Pioneer Valley Railroad, Grafton and Upton, Housatonic, New England Central, and Bay Colony, regionals like Pan Am Southern, and larger Class I railroad CSX, many Massachusetts businesses have cost-effective access to markets throughout the region, across the continent, and beyond.

State leaders have been forward-thinking in recognizing the value of these rail connections, introducing in 2012 the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP) to provide grants to businesses looking to add or expand rail access. The program, said MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger last year, is an “excellent example of the public and private sector partnering to grow the economy, reduce congestion, and help achieve our climate goals.” MassDOT estimated that the grants given out in the last round would remove 23,000 annual truck trips.

For their part, rail companies consistently invest significant amounts of their own capital on the tracks, people, operations, and technologies necessary to keep and grow their networks. Just like a road requires expensive upkeep, so too does a rail line — with the key difference being that roads are largely maintained using public funds. When Class I railroad CSX acquired Pan Am Railways in 2022, for example, it committed to spend  upward of $100 million over three years to upgrade those lines, making them safer, more reliable, and more efficient. This includes rehabilitation of the rail line between Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts that provides a vital connection to the rest of the CSX and the national network and beyond. .

In an era where the revitalization of urban centers is a top priority, freight rail plays a crucial role in supporting sustainable economic development as experienced in Central Mass over the last decade. By connecting industrial areas to seaports, airports, and distribution centers, rail fosters job creation and boosts local economies.

The commitment of all stakeholders is essential to any expansion of passenger rail service connecting Boston, Springfield and Pittsfield, which is a key to future economic growth in Western MA. that we view as key to future economic growth in Western Massachusetts. CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs said that the railroad, which could host such an expansion, is “excited to work together and make that happen.” We hope that everyone with a vested interest in this project shares that view.

Just like our high-tech sector, freight rail plays a vital role in our state’s success. And like tech companies, railroads are consistently evolving, whether through the implementation of new technologies or refinement of their operations based on a changing supply chain. Trains today move double what they did in 1980, with an accident rate that is 80% lower. Advanced systems like positive train control and automated track inspection will continue to improve safety.

Massachusetts public officials and legislators, in addition to championing public-private partnerships through programs like the IRAP, should consider how to get public policy right when it comes to rail. Let’s prioritize data-driven ideas that allow railroads to grow their capacity to meet the needs of commonwealth businesses and communities. Freight rail is not just a mode of transportation; it’s a pathway to a more sustainable, efficient, and prosperous future.

Tim Murray is president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *