Goods movement is Southern California’s largest industry, employing 2.9 million people in the region. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two largest port complexes in the country, and combined they rank tenth in the world. A healthy network of trucks, trains and ships is crucial for our state’s economy. But against the current landscape of crumbling infrastructure, one mode distinguishes itself: the rail network, states Elizabeth Warren of FuturePorts, a membership-based advocacy group at the San Pedro Bay Ports.

America’s 140,000-mile freight rail network is efficient and cost-effective — and is primarily funded by railroad companies. On average, freight railroads have spent a collective $26 billion each year for the last five years to build, maintain and enhance the rail network that connects businesses to markets across the country and across the world.

Here in Southern California, freight rail dollars help make goods movement ever more efficient, supporting our ports to meet increasing demand for trade. It is projected that the already massive amount of containerized cargo handled by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will increase at least 5 percent each year through 2020, and rail, which hauls one-third of all U.S. exports, is key to handling this increase. “But for rail to continue to play its part in meeting our region’s shipping needs, it is important that policies remain in place to keep this private investment flowing,” says Warren.

Prior to 1980, the federal government virtually ran the rail industry in the U.S. but the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 altered this path, partially deregulating the industry by allowing railroads to operate in the free market like other businesses. While railroads today are still federally regulated like other industries, they are able to earn enough capital to reinvest into the rail network that contributes to the success of California’s goods movement industry.

Warren believes that, as the new Congress begins to consider infrastructure plans, they should reflect on freight rail’s example of balanced regulations spurring success and focus on policies that encourage railroads to continue to spend more on their infrastructure each year, supporting the health and future growth of our ports, our region’s goods movement industry and our economy as a whole.

Source: OC Register