Railroad Infrastructure Rates Grade of B

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given railroad infrastructure a grade of B, while rating the rest of the U.S. infrastructure a D+ in its latest quadrennial report card that depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure across 16 sectors, assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement.

In a news release, the society said a B grade means that infrastructure is “good, adequate for now,” while the D is “poor, at risk.”

The report assessed the rail network’s 140,000 miles of track and more than 100,000 bridges by private freight railroads and intercity passenger rail that is operated almost exclusively by Amtrak.

While capacity across the Class I network is “generally sufficient to meet current needs,” demand is expected to grow amid road congestion and demand for goods increases.

The good news is that capacity has increased for double-stack container trains and heavier carloads.

The report lauded freight railroads for maintaining the condition of the majority of the nation’s track, bridges, and connections at ports and intermodal facilities.

“[The railroads]… proactively maintain, replace, and upgrade systems though maintenance and capital programs,” the report said. “Changes in freight cargo trends in recent years have necessitated changes in the network. Coal, the most commonly transported bulk product by rail, has experienced a decline, while intermodal traffic has experienced substantial growth, requiring investment in connections to ports and truck transfer facilities.

“Freight railroads continue to upgrade their networks to support additional demand with greater capacity, added efficiency, and improved safety. This has required the rebuilding of bridges, tunnels, track, and signal systems.”

The report raised concerns about the condition of the Northeast Corridor, which is owned by Amtrak and other commuter rail agencies.

“While safe to operate, much of the NEC’s infrastructure is beyond its useful life, increasing maintenance costs and reducing system reliability,” the report said.

The average age of major NEC backlog projects is 111 years, including 10 moveable bridges, three sets of tunnels, and one viaduct.

“Upgrades and repairs to basic infrastructure items like signals, power systems, and tracks, as well as service improvement projects to add capacity, are needed to meet growth in the northeastern economy and related travel demand,” the report said. “The condition of the NEC continues to deteriorate while projects are on hold pending funding. Amtrak has been left with little choice but to be reactive to maintenance issues due to inadequate funding.”

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