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By Pat Foran, Editor
Of the 60 North American freight and passenger railroads that responded to a survey or provided information for our 21st annual MOW Spending Report, about half have set aside more dollars for infrastructure upkeep this year compared with what they budgeted in 2021, as Managing Editor Jeff Stagl reports this month. While some roads say they’re setting aside more because they plan to do more maintenance work, others expect to spend more because of inflation, rising material costs and other expenses.
Based on their MOW spending budgets and other indicators (from traffic to service metrics), it’d be a stretch to conclude the rail industry is riding high. I don’t think too many industries are. But I don’t think it’s a reach to surmise this: Collectively, railroads are still investing — and investing in a big way — in their infrastructure. Witness the Class Is. From Union Pacific Railroad’s $1.9 billion (flat vs. 2021) to BNSF Railway Co.’s $1.4 billion (up from $1.3 billion) to Norfolk Southern Railway’s $1 billion-plus (up from $950 million), the collective maintenance spend is a putting-their-money-where-their-mouth-is investment in freight rail’s commitment to better serve customers. Those billion-dollar-per-annum totals also represent a big-time bet on rail’s future.
This year’s spending report also will be available online in mid-May in the form of two e-books: 2022 MOW Spending: Freight Rail Infrastructure Investments and 2022 MOW Spending: Transit Rail Infrastructure Investments. They’ll be accessible under “Education & Events” at progressiverailroading.com — click on the e-book link.
Last month, freight rail was in the regulatory spotlight (or under the regulatory klieg lights, depending on one’s perspective).
First, there was the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials March 8 hearing to collect stakeholder input on the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) role in regulating the industry.
Then there was the STB hearing on the proposed rulemaking calling for the board to exercise its statutory authority to require rail carriers to establish switching arrangements in certain circumstances (aka the reciprocal switching thing).
During the March 15-16 hearing, representatives for the railroad and shipper constituencies “hashed out their opposing views over what would — or should — happen to the nation’s freight-rail network if the STB implements a proposed reciprocal switching rule,” as Senior Associate Editor Julie Sneider reported on RailPrime, our premium digital subscription offering.
But it wasn’t all “we said/you said” stuff. At least two possible solutions emerged during the Q&A following the back and forths, as Sneider notes. An annual subscription to RailPrime is $199; you also can subscribe monthly for $19.99. To read Sneider’s story and tap everything else RailPrime has to offer, subscribe here: progressiverailroading.com/railprime.