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U.S. freight railroads this year plan to collectively spend a record $26 billion to build, maintain and upgrade infrastructure, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).The railroads have invested about $550 billion in their rail networks since 1980, including $115 billion in the past five years. The work has included upgrades to bridges and tunnels, and new tracks and facilities.“This year’s projected record investments continue a decades-long trend of private railroad dollars that sustain America’s freight-rail network," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger in a press release. "The result is a rail network that is the envy of the world, serving both freight and passenger railroads, and this massive private financial commitment is a demonstration of the industry’s resolve to never stop improving."With strong infrastructure, railroads in recent years have been able to successfully meet increased intermodal demand and serve a booming domestic energy market and other growing traffic sectors, he said."Railroads are working to deliver a safe, modern and efficient rail network that can reliably serve our customers and communities … [and create] jobs for more American workers," said Hamberger.U.S. freight railroads also expect to hire more than 12,000 people in 2014, up from a projected 11,000 new hires in 2013, AAR data shows."Freight rail is a great industry for a potentially life-long career," said Hamberger.