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The Global Influence of US Rail Freight

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An eastbound BNSF train at Prairie du Chien, W...
An eastbound BNSF train at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if you don't spend much time thinking about the locomotives and loaded trailers that traverse American railroads each and every day, there are those in other countries who consider it a priority.

As a Marketplace report today suggests, the model of US rail freight is appreciated and influential around the world.

Our monthly industry reviews often focus on the performance of the country's railroads, which when combined with Mexican and Canadian rail freight make up the highest volume commercial rail network in the world.

Within the US the system also does most of the heavy lifting of any mode of transport, hauling almost 40 percent of the country's freight. Trucking comes a close second at around one-third of cargo movements, but it's the trains that grab the attention of foreign analysts seeking to replicate the US rail freight model.

Their questions often center on how our commercial rail operators generate profit and ensure investment, according to the report, although there are plenty of infrastructure and equipment technology queries as well.

The question of infrastructure is an important one. It has become common knowledge in recent years that the nation's roads, railways, and bridges are struggling to keep pace with the tonnage being placed upon them.

us rail freight cars on track

Roads, of course, suffer from the added strain of the country's passenger vehicles, while rail is less burdened by non-commercial travel.

This places US railroads at the heart of our economy, as it's often the trains that will handle the excess when congestion or conditions on the road spill over onto the tracks.

With this in mind, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced to recognize the need for increased maintenance and development of US railroads. Making no bones about the importance of setting aside political differences to keep our railways running effectively, senators from Missouri and West Virginia describe these measures as "critical investments are needed to remove bottlenecks and improve efficiency."

When we talk about the benefits of supply chain backup plans like bicoastal fulfillment, it's well worth understanding your options for rail as well as road freight transportation. When roads ice up in winter or see that summer congestion from construction, it's often rail operators who, for lack of a better term, keep on truckin'.

There could also be cost benefits to using rail transport for some of your distribution. Depending on your location, volumes, and the current state of variable costs such as fuel, tolls and taxes, there are times when rail trumps road, even if it's the latter that we think will serve us best.

So next time you're caught in a brief traffic delay thanks to a train going by, remember that it's not only carrying cargo, but also a significant amount of the country's economic success on those trusty old trailers!