Illinois Congressman Mike Bost recently joined the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “a coveted spot that his southern Illinois district, a transportation hub, held for a quarter century,” according to a recent report.
While this appointment carries oversight of several transportation modes, freight railroads may be the most relevant for the Congressman. We encourage Mr. Bost to be cognizant of the industry’s importance to the region and support sensible policies that ensure its viability.
Illinois maintains 40 freight railroads, including seven Class I railroads, of which five — Canadian National Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway Company, Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific — operate in the Belleville region. These railroads move some of the state’s most important commodities, including farm and food products, materials like sand and gravel, and the swath of consumer goods moved through intermodal shipping.
According to the most recent data available, Illinois ranks second in total rail miles and first in carloads originated by state. This helps the state maintain the second best position in jobs – more than 13,000 total – and wages – $1.03 billion in total.
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Equally impressive is the overall standing of the nation’s privately-owned railroads. Accidents and employee injuries are down 45 and 47 percent, respectively, since 2000. Investment in the network remains high, topping $600 billion since 1980 with $26 billion projected for the year ahead. And technological development, from “big data” to drones, continues to modernize the sector. This private, coast-to-coast network that serves the public good doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent.
Yet all of this is rooted in a simple premise: balanced regulations. Once crippled by government, railroads were partially deregulated in 1980 by Congress. “The evidence strongly indicates that rail deregulation has accomplished its primary goal of putting the U.S. rail freight industry on a more secure financial footing,” says the Brookings Institution.
Indeed, federal data shows balanced oversight has correlated with growth, which spurs the investment that drives the safety, service and the economic value outlined here.
Railroads will continue their never-ending mission toward maximizing safety and service and look forward to working with Rep. Bost in his new role.
Ian Jefferies is Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the Association of American Railroads.