Freight Rail Is a Transformative Solution, But Not Necessarily a Job Creator

Today's Washington Post contained an op-ed penned by the Governors of five states in the Mid-Atlantic and the South. In it, they recommend investing in a 2,500 mile rail corridor termed the Crescent Corridor that will replace much of the truck traffic between the South and the Northeast. This is a great idea, and it has already received some stimulus funding. As pointed out in the article, as much as 40% of the traffic on I-81 is truck traffic. There is not much room to expand road capacity, and even if there were, the space required to move the same amount of freight via rail will be much, much smaller.

In addition, shipping freight by rail is far more environmentally sustainable, with reductions in fuel consumption of 2/3rds or more to transport the same amount of goods. "It's an idea that will not only create jobs but also reduce highway congestion, improve safety and take more than 1 million long-haul trucks off the road each year," the article states.

Transforming our transportation systems is an imperative objective as we continue to move into a world of rapidly changing climate, unsustainable land-use patterns and increasing traffic congestion. Shifting significant portions of our freight transportation from truck to rail is a no brainer, even taking into account the significant infrastructure costs involved.

So I am totally on board with these governors and the overall idea of shifting freight to rail. My only quibble is that they are throwing out the job creation rubric as a key reason for doing this. You can see the contradiction in their statement above: removing 1 million trucks from the road will also remove the truck drivers and the support systems for those trucks. That's part of the reason it's so efficient--you only need one really big vehicle with a staff of two or three people to move the goods that would have taken hundreds. Yes, some jobs will be created in the construction part of the initiative, but in the long run, shifting to rail will be much less labor intensive than trucking.

So, yes, let's invest in rail (passenger rail, too, for that matter) Let's transform our transportation systems to more sustainable models. But let's not couch it in false terms of job creation.

1 comment:

  1. But saying it creates jobs means it has a better chance of getting funded right? You are also assuming the trucks currently on the road stop and all shift to rail, which is unlikely since not all routes will be efficiently served by this shift. Anyways - I say do it no matter how it gets done!