Today’s railroad emphasize innovation and safety | Don Brunell

In January, the American Association of Railroads or AAR published its first-ever state of the railroads annual report focusing on the industry’s economic value, innovations and emphasis on safety.

In January, the American Association of Railroads or AAR published its first-ever state of the railroads annual report focusing on the industry’s economic value, innovations and emphasis on safety.

The nation’s railroads have been around for about 180 years and maintain 180,000 miles of track. Trains move over 51 million tons of freight each day which is about 40% of the nation’s freight.

Rail has been a vital transportation link in Pacific Northwest since 1883. That year President Ulysses S. Grant drove in the final “golden spike” in western Montana thus completing the northern transcontinental railroad.

Today, we would be hard pressed to live without trains. Even Boeing, the world’s premiere aerospace company, transports 737 fuselages from Wichita to Renton by rail.

In 2014, the Washington Council on International Trade estimated railroads contributed an estimated $28.5 billion to our state’s economy which is nearly 10% of our GDP. The council adds that rail transportation produces 243,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in household income.

Washington state exports totaled more than $90.5 billion, making us the nation’s largest exporter per capita. Trains transport those products to and from seaports and carry nearly a fifth of our state’s freight tonnage. Even our garbage is railed to eastern Washington landfills.

AAR reports railroad workers are well paid. Annual wages and benefits now total $116,830.

In total our country’s railroads have spent over $600 billion since 1980.

That is a reversal from 50 years ago when railroads where bleeding money from excessive regulations, high labor costs, dilapidated track and equipment, and competition from truckers.

Finally, in 1970, railroads reached the tipping point. The Penn Central filed for bankruptcy which was then the nation’s largest. It was losing $1 million a day and trains slowed to 10 mph to keep railcars and engines from sliding off the poorly maintained track. Eventually, the federal government restructured Penn Central forming Conrail which cost taxpayers $2.8 billion.

Since 1980 railways have been rebuilding. AAR reports key indicators of progress are train accident rates, rail worker injuries and railroad cross collisions—all of which dropped by 80%.

Railroad have become highly innovative. For example, they have installed sophisticated ultrasound inspection systems to locate weak rails and trackside detection systems to identify malfunctioning wheels and axles as trains pass by. Workers make repairs to avoid costly mishaps.

In the near future railroads plan to start up revolutionary technology to analyze a host of real-time conditions, including train speed and track composition, and automatically stops a train before certain types of accidents occur.

BNSF leads the industry replacing older locomotives with less polluting, more energy efficient models. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, of all the greenhouse emissions from transportation, freight rail accounts for only 2.3%.

Railroads are buying better rail cars. For example, new oil tankers have thicker steel shells, better thermal protection, stronger hatches and reinforced valves. That technology can apply to other cars shipping flammable, explosive and corrosive cargo.

Finally, railroads are not only investing heavily in training their workers and first responders especially those dealing with hazardous cargo. They established a Crude By Rail and Emergency Response center in Pueblo. CO, and cover the training costs.

No system is fail safe and tragically we learn from deadly derailments such as occurred in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 where 47 people perished.

Just as we modified our space shuttles and procedures after the Challenger and Columbia disasters, we have to continually improve train, trucks, ships, barges and airplanes to make them safer and more environmentally friendly.

America’s hallmark has been its innovation by creative people. In the case of railroads, it is nice to see it coming from the private sector.

 

More in Business

Seattle’s misstep highlights need for new approach

Last week, Seattle’s City Council did an “about face” revoking the onerous… Continue reading

Washington’s expensive culvert court case

Too much money is spent in court where it should go to increasing the salmon population

Lt. Dan needs lots of helping hands

Gary Sinise formed the “Lt. Dan Band” in early 2004 and they began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad. Sinise often raised the money to pay the band and fund its travel.

New Enumclaw wine bar aims for broad audience

Bordeaux Wine Bar is scheduled to be open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Streamlining regulations makes more housing affordable

There were over 21,000 people homeless in Washington State last year.

New approaches needed to fight super wildfires | Don Brunell

Last year, wildfires nationwide consumed 12,550 square miles, an area larger than Maryland.

Skilled trade jobs go unfilled in our robust economy

Known as blue collar jobs, they routinely pay $45,000 to $65,000 a year or more.

Streamlining regulations helps Americans compete

The cost of regulations is a key American competitiveness issue. It is a major reason our companies re-locate to other countries and our manufacturers and farmers have difficulties competing internationally.

Water pressure mounting in West as population spikes

What is happening in California with water allocation disputes is a harbinger of what is to come in our state as well.

Railroads implementing positive track

While the investigation continues into the deadly AMTRAK derailment near Dupont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Finding balance in occupational licensing

Recently, the Institute for Justice (Institute) determined state licensing barriers for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs not only hurts people trying to establish themselves in a profession, but annually drives consumer prices up by $203 billion.