Steel Interstate Concept
RAIL Solution’s Transportation Vision for America -- the “Steel Interstate” -- a national network of high-capacity rail corridors
The concept for the Steel Interstate System in the U.S. is for a grade separated 2 to 3 track, electrified system accommodation both freight and passenger rail as depicted in the design features of the illustration by Craig Thorpe.
The concept of a steel interstate system in the U.S. is rather analogous to the Interstate Highway System that has been built out over the last 50 years. That has given us a core national network of high-capacity, grade-separated roads that made travel faster and safer than on the old system of U.S. Routes.
Today’s railroads are like the old U.S. Routes – built a long time ago and often seriously under-engineered and lacking in capacity to handle the demands of today’s shipping volumes. Therefore, a dollar of transportation investment made today can often have a bigger impact in increased freight-carrying capacity when invested in rail instead of in more highway lanes.
The railroads have been investing billions of dollars in improved infrastructure, but they are limited in what they can do with internally generated funds from earnings. To restore balance in our national transport network, we need a steel interstate program with state and national funding to augment private capital and create a core network of high-capacity rail freight corridors for the 21st Century.
This approach would only be used where public benefits exceed public investment cost. But there is another vital consideration. Today in the U.S. our national transportation system is virtually 100% dependent on oil. We need to be planning now to cope with a world without cheap and abundant oil, or without oil at all!
Railroads can be readily electrified, so our steel interstates can be powered by whatever fuels (nuclear, coal, solar or renewables) are then being used for electrical generation.
With proper planning over ensuing decades, we can have a core national steel interstate system in place before oil becomes prohibitively expensive or runs out. Featuring a network of high-capacity, electrified rail lines, it would be the backbone for movement of both goods and passengers in this country.
Long-distance trucks can also be carried on such trains. Though this has been done in Europe for some time, the knee-jerk approach to accommodating trucking growth in the U.S. has always been to build ever more lanes of highway.
A truck-ferry operation in Switzerland (hupac photo)
Currently the railroad system in the United States lacks the capacity, reliability, and speed necessary for this type of service. But the time has come to explore public/private ventures to bring public investment into a steel interstate system. Equivalent capacity can be put in place at lower economic and environmental cost than adding more roads.
Railroads in the U.S. have done a fine job developing long-haul intermodal business, but it is focused almost entirely on moving ocean shipping containers, mostly to and from ports. Millions of trucks on the nation’s highways remain a huge, untapped opportunity and challenge. As a nation we need an “open” intermodal approach, a technology that can handle not only shipping containers but all kinds of trucks and trailers.
Of a more national scope is our support of the "steel interstate" concept. This is a core national network of high-capacity rail lines that would constitute the backbone of a transportation system for both goods and people in the U.S. Today the rail industry in this country is where the highway system was in the 1950s before the half century build-out of the Eisenhower Interstate System. We need the same vision and commitment to a new transportation paradigm now for rail. The steel interstate would be grade-separated, multi-tracked, and electrified. By replacing expensive and scarce foreign oil with domestically generated electricity, our national transportation system can be weaned from near total dependence on oil, providing a sustainable method for preserving national mobility, saving energy, reducing pollution, improving safety, and eliminating the environmental destruction caused by highway widening.
www.steelinterstate.org offers a more thorough exploration of the Steel Interstate concept and many economic, environmental, health and safety, national security and fuel savings benefits of the Steel Interstate System.