Some True Facts* About America’s Railroads

For most of last year, I was working on the new edition of a book I wrote in the late 90s about train travel in North America. As you can imagine, there was a helluva lot of updating to do. In the course of all that, I contacted the folks at the Association of American Railroads for bits of information I thought people would find interesting: how many miles of track, the number of freight cars rumbling around the country at any given time, something about what’s in all those rail cars … things like that.

And that, of course, got me on the AAR mailing list – I am quite happy about that, by the way – and some of the info I received a week or so ago seems worth passing along.

– Over the past 30 years, the freight railroads have plowed more than $460 billion into infrastructure improvements and maintenance, which is a hefty 40¢ out of every revenue dollar.

– The freight guys employ a lot of people … something like 165,000 jobs for the several largest railroads alone. And every one of those jobs supports another four-and-a-half jobs in construction, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, food service, health care and other fields.

– Here’s one you’ve probably seen in TV commercials: A modern freight train can haul a ton of stuff – coal or lumber or whatever – for 457 miles on one gallon of fuel … and that represents an improvement of 95% in fuel efficiency since 1980.

– If 10% of what they refer to a “long-haul freight” were to be shipped by rail instead of by truck, it would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas blown out into the air from exhaust pipes by 12 million tons … and that’s in one year.

Yes, I’ll grant you that this information comes from an organization that exists for the purpose of telling us good things about railroads. Nevertheless, if anyone wants to dispute any of this information, feel free to email me.

* Back in a high school, I used this term in one of my English essays and was docked by one full grade by my teacher, Norris Orchard. It was a lesson learned the hard way and, as things have turned out, I owe him much for it.


  1. Mr orchard certianily had a point, but i wonder if it would survive in the current climate, mike said

  2. Probably run screaming from the room. A recent newspaper article here kept talking about Hawaii state law and who would or would not be allowed “to fund raise.” It’s stuff like that that makes me CRAZY!

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