January 14, 2021

Biden's "Second Great Railroad Revolution": Infrastructure

Part 3 of a 3-Part Series
Holland & Knight Transportation Blog
William P. Byrne | Jameson B. Rice | Amanda Barbour Fantauzzo
Election Impacts on Transportation & Infrastructure with Transportation themes

As noted in Part 1 and Part 2, during the presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden called for "Sparking the second great railroad revolution." Biden pledged to "make sure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and freight."

Infrastructure spending, the focus of Part 3, is an issue that often transcends political differences. The Biden campaign's stated interest in rail suggests that there could be extensive interest in so-called "public-private partnerships." In these initiatives, the federal government funds private investment that will have mixed public and private benefits, with the private entity (and sometimes local or state governments) contributing as well. The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program could be a major beneficiary of such investment. Chicago is the nation's busiest freight rail hub, and the need for expanded commuter capacity is well established. Launched in 2003, the CREATE program envisions $4.6 billion in total investment in 70 projects to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Chicago's freight commuter and intercity passenger rail operations, at the same time reducing highway grade crossing delays. Thirty of these projects have been successfully funded and completed, and there is great opportunity to advance the initiative under the incoming Biden Administration.

Even if the interest of the new administration is overwhelmingly focused on passenger transportation, the freight rail companies could well benefit. Passenger trains share the same tracks, signals, bridges and tunnels with freight trains. To benefit one is very often to benefit the other.

Opportunities for improvement to the nation's railroad infrastructure abound. Every railroad of significant size has aging bridges and tunnels. Although 80- and 90-year-old structures can be kept safe and operational for years into the future, eventually they will need to be replaced. Smaller railroads, operating on lower revenue bases, may have sections of track that need upgrading. Infrastructure investment has the potential not just to replace and repair but also to expand capacity. Adding double track to main lines, automating switches, and expanding yards and intermodal terminals are all possible ways to increase the nation's capacity to move freight by rail instead of the highway.

The Biden Administration's vision of a "second great railroad revolution" may well manifest itself in programs to address all of these categories of potential investment.

20 Posts in 20 Days Leading to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20

Holland & Knight's Transportation & Infrastructure Industry Sector Group is prepared to assist industry clients in adapting to the anticipated changes by the new administration. Our team is writing new blog posts each day leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden's inauguration, with insights as to likely impacts on the various segments of the industry, including Aviation, Construction, Maritime, Freight Rail, Motor Carriers, Transit and Autonomous Transportation. Bookmark our Election Impacts on Transportation & Infrastructure resource page to follow along.

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