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Well, because if not for freight trains, your options would be limited, and the car that fits your budget might not be so affordable. Indeed, our nation’s venerable freight rail network is an efficient, reliable and cost-effective way to move goods on a massive scale. The beneficiaries of this network are America’s industries, the consumers served by them and the U.S. economy as a whole.
America’s freight railroads are part of an integrated transportation network of trains, trucks and barges that carries 54 tons of goods and commodities for every American in a single year. Freight rail plays a unique and integral role in this larger transportation network. When shippers need to go big, rail is ready.
Learn how freight rail is designed to move industry at AAR.org.
Though freight rail’s role in U.S. commerce is remarkable and spans scores of industries, a quick look at America’s iconic automotive industry reveals how railroads can serve one customer so deeply and seamlessly.
Many of the cars you see driven off the lot of local dealerships were built in one of the 70-plus manufacturing plants across North America. While Detroit remains the global headquarters of the U.S. auto industry, you will find manufacturing plants in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere.
To move new pickups, SUVs, minivans or other vehicles to a dealer near you, the auto industry counts on freight rail. Nearly three-quarters of the vehicles purchased in the United States are shipped by rail. Freight railroads also move a large percentage of imported autos from port to markets across the country. Collectively, that’s millions of vehicles hauled every year. How do you move that many vehicles? Well, a single train can ship 750 automobiles—a model of scale and efficiency.
Railroads also transport millions of car parts each year. Many of these parts—such as frames, engines, transmissions and axles—are too big or heavy to move in large quantities by truck. Even much of the steel used to manufacture the parts is moved by rail. At every stage of the production life of an automobile, freight rail plays an integral role.
Freight rail’s economy of scale benefits more than car manufacturers. Industries and companies across the United States—from paper mills to power plants to big-box stores—rely on freight rail. Today, rail customers can ship nearly twice as much freight for about the same price they paid 35 years ago. Whether it’s to deliver auto parts for new cars or drywall for new homes, freight rail provides businesses what they need to succeed.
The reliability and efficiency of the rail network does not happen by chance. Freight railroads can deliver for American businesses because the industry spends an average of $25 billion a year to maintain and modernize America’s rail network. This private spending ensures railroads can be nimble in the changing global marketplace and position themselves to better meet customer needs.
Learn more about freight rail’s private spending at AAR.org.
What does this approach look like? Freight railroads have built new shipping facilities closer to auto manufacturing plants, cutting delivery times as well as costs. And a portion of the modern rail car fleets can be modified to carry every size and shape of vehicle, giving railroads and shippers the ability to quickly respond to changing customer preferences.
In 2015, U.S. auto sales hit a record high, and global sales of U.S. automobiles, from Shanghai to Mexico City, continue to grow. In fact, 2015 capped six straight years of growth for the U.S. auto industry—a remarkable turnaround from the depths of the Great Recession. And freight rail was there to help drive it all.
The next time you marvel at the endless gleaming options on a car lot, think about freight rail — and the transportation network that delivers for American businesses so they can deliver for you.
Learn more about freight rail’s role in this integrated transportation network at AAR.org.
This article first appeared on www.washingtonpost.com
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