Rail freight plays an important role in Michigan’s economy


The deplorable state of our highway infrastructure is at the heart of all Michigan residents. This is not easy to forget for drivers who pay around $ 645 per year in additional costs due to roads needing repair. The Michigan House has long been a champion of increased investment because we know that the condition of our roads, bridges, and railroads – good or bad – can propel or dampen our economy.

Fortunately, there is a bright spot of infrastructure that seamlessly connects our state, supports vital industries, and delivers to consumers. Michigan’s freight rail network, comprising 28 railroads and over 3,600 miles of track, is often overlooked in conversations about infrastructure, but it is essential to our economy. In addition, freight railways largely pay for their own infrastructure at low cost to taxpayers, unlike our publicly funded routes.

Rail has long played an external role in moving Michigan’s auto industry, from the early 1900s and Henry Ford’s Highland Park assembly plant to the present day. Freight trains today carry 75% of the more than 17 million new cars and light trucks purchased in the United States. More than that, they are involved in every step of automotive manufacturing, from the transportation of raw iron ore and coke for steel to the delivery of finished auto parts. This amounted to 1.8 million carloads of vehicles and parts in 2018.

From moving automobiles from Michigan to mining to agriculture, freight rail transportation is an economic workhorse, supporting 1.1 million jobs across the country. Each of the nearly 3,400 direct freight rail jobs in Michigan supports an additional 6.5 jobs statewide. A study of 2017 data found that investments by the largest Class I railways – about $ 25 billion a year in recent years – contributed $ 219 billion to U.S. economic output in a single year. .

Federal and state policymakers in DC and Lansing should oppose any new policies that destroy rail’s ability to continue investing at record levels. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the historic Stagger Rail Act, signed by President Carter, which brought balanced economic regulation to rail freight. In short, it allowed the railways to run their businesses like other businesses, setting fares and timetables without the government overdoing it.

Staggers’ smart policy has achieved record levels of safety, productivity and investment, as well as shipper rates 44% lower than they were in 1980. Although Congress is not considering Currently not legislating to change the regulatory balance, the US Surface Transportation Board, the economic authority of rail regulator, is considering a return to price caps and other regulations that could restrict private rail spending. This return to over-regulation would be a mistake that undermines the rail network on which our economy is based.

As Michigan navigates an ever-changing economy, infrastructure will continue to be the essential foundation upon which our industries rely. I am proud to share the positive story of freight rail transport and hope that our decision makers at all levels will do what they can to preserve good regulatory policy and keep the rail network running.

Dan Papineau is director of tax policy and regulatory affairs at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.