Freight railroads benefit Michigan’s economy
Innovative entrepreneurs and technology are changing everything in the world around us. Transportation is no different as we move closer to driverless cars and modes of transportation to move goods and people that are more friendly to our environment.
Yet, to fully appreciate where the future may take us in transportation, we must know and appreciate its past and present. Trucks, barges, commuter trains and boats all help Americans maintain a modern transportation network.
But we cannot forget the importance of freight railroads. New data from Towson University shows that freight rail is a current economic boon to the U.S. and Michigan. Legislators and regulators in Michigan and in Washington, D.C., must continue to support this sector with sound public policy that helps enable its prosperity.
According to the data, freight railroads nationally drove more than $270 billion in economic activity while generating more than $30 billion in taxes. They also supported nearly 1.5 million jobs. In Michigan, this includes agricultural and farm products, stone, chemicals and automobiles.
According to Ian Jefferies of Association of American Railroads, freight rail has the unique ability to ship certain goods more efficiently and cost-effectively than other modes of transportation. In fact, a single train can transport 750 cars, and railroads move about three-quarters of all automobiles sold in the United States every year. In 2015, railroads transported more than 17 million autos.
Why should those outside of these commodities care about freight rail?
First, moving more goods by rail means lessening the impact on our already stressed, publicly funded infrastructure. Railroads invest large amounts of its own money ($30 billion in 2015) so that taxpayers don’t have to. Using rail helps alleviate congestion and road deterioration.
Rail is also beneficial to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, railroads reduce emissions by nearly 70 percent compared to highway movement.
And last, railroads benefit all businesses whether you move your products on them or not. Whether located in Lansing or Detroit, railroads provide service and market competition.
The concept is simple: by having multiple options available, costs go down for consumers. From groceries to cars to lumber, if railroads didn’t move large quantities of goods long distances, we would all pay.
This is why we urge all policymakers, including U.S. Senators Gary Peters, Debbie Stabenow and the entire Congressional Delegation to oppose bureaucratic controls or overregulation that would surely stifle this important industry and raise costs for all of us.
Technology and imaginative innovators will undoubtedly change transportation, but let us not forget the immense benefit railroads provide today and will continue to provide in the future.
Jim Holcomb is Senior Vice President for Business Advocacy & General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.