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Freight Rail Overview

Each American requires the movement of approximately 40 tons of freight per year across the freight network. This includes everything from your shirt to your lawn mower to your orange juice. Below are a few examples of how the goods we depend on every day utilize the freight rail network.

  • A new automobile leaves the factory on a railcar, not a truck.
  • A loaf of bread begins as grains shipped by rail to industrial bakeries and flour mills.
  • A light bulb calls on a power plant to supply energy from coal, biofuels, or wind energy components shipped by rail. 
  • A television arrives on the west coast and speeds across the country by rail to an intermodal center where it travels by truck to its final destination.

As the U.S. population expands, the U.S. freight system will be called upon to meet the demands of a larger population. Between 2010 and 2035, the system will experience a 22 percent increase in the total amount of tonnage it moves. By 2050, with an estimated 420 million people in the U.S., the increase is projected to be 35 percent.

You move 40 tons of freight a year.

The resilience of the U.S. economy depends on a multi-modal transportation system that efficiently links businesses with consumers, suppliers, and markets. Freight rail transportation meets this need with a burgeoning system that connects U.S. consumers with agricultural, economic, logistics, and manufacturing centers across the nation and the world. To meet the needs of the current and future freight rail industry and to maximize the benefits of public investments, FRA is committed to supporting current freight rail market share and growth and developing strategies to attract 50% of all shipments 500 miles or greater to intermodal rail. [1] FRA's Office of Railroad Policy and Development (RPD) works to implement innovative programs that provide financial support, research and development, and policy analysis and guidance for the freight rail industry and its various stakeholders.

[1] Federal Railroad Administration, "National Rail Plan Progress Report", September 2010.

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