It's ironic that an industry advancing toward its third century of existence finds itself in the throes of growing pains. But that's where the rail industry finds itself today.
Since the first train whistles blew in Baltimore in 1827, America has depended on railroads for the movement of goods and people and as a catalyst for national prosperity. With the advent of the nation's interstate highway system in the 1950s, however, people moved more by car and goods moved more by truck. Rails weren't exactly being put out to pasture, but many thought they had become a Model T in an era of super-charged V-8s.
As it turns out, the sun that many thought was setting on the rail industry instead was a wonderful opportunity to rise. Right now, the sluggish economy is camouflaging a steady but unmistakable conversion of truck traffic to rail - more than 700,000 truckloads of freight on our railroad alone in the past two years. To continue this growth, we need to continue to improve our service and safety while making it easier for customers to do business with us. We must also close the gap between ongoing capital investments and the revenue we generate.
At the same time, a significant number of metropolitan areas are looking to rail to bring new relief from increasing commuter congestion. This is in addition to the hundreds of commuter and passenger trains that already run daily over freight rail lines. The necessary expansion to meet these needs will require significant capital investment and cannot be allowed to limit our ability to serve current or future customers or continue to provide the environmental and transportation advantages that serve the public well.
As a result, where measurable public benefits flow from rail investment, such as in the area of commuter rail, it makes sense for the public to pay. Of course, a rail infrastructure trust fund financed through taxes paid by the freight railroads doesn't make sense because we already pay for our own infrastructure.