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Long distances in the United States: Growth potential

por Patricia


The railway connections gain in importance in the united states. the aim is to manage the air traffic congestion and the freight network’s overload. the federal administration, the state governments and the private sector promote more competitive routes by modernizing the intercity and the arrival of high-speed services.

The United States’ railway network is the longest and the most dynamic of the world with 140.000 miles (225.308 kilometers) of operational routes. The freight transport lines represent almost 80%, while the passenger line extends on 35.000 kilometers.

The raw material and goods transport is considered as the best of the world in terms of safety, reliability and price. Approximately five million tons are shipped every day to harbors, distribution centers and businesses. Moreover, it is estimated that a third of the exports to international markets is made by railway.

These lines are property of many private companies. In total, there are 538 routes, seven of them being I Class, which means that they have made a profit exceeding 453 million dollars (425 million Euros). Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway are the largest. Alongside, the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the CSX Transport, the Kansas City South Railway and Norfolk South Railway are also outlined.

Future prospects

Despite the importance of this type of transport, the Federal Railroad Administration estimates that its volume will increase by 35% until 2050. Therefore, it requires a large investment so as to manage the congested network, which is also highly overcrowded because of the large amount of oil being imported. As regards the passenger railway lines, these are managed by the national Amtrak Company.

There are more than 30 routes linking 500 destinations, in 46 states of the Union, as well as the Columbia district. They also reach to Toronto and Montreal, in Canada. The investments of two major freight companies aim to give a way out of the current saturation of this transport type in the country, as detailed below.


In 2016, an investment program in the amount of 4,300 million dollars (4031 M€) has been approved. Of this amount, 2,800 (2,625 M€) are intended for maintaining the network in the best conditions, as emphasized by the Company’s President, Carl Ice, aiming to increase the transport capacity and safety. More than 300 million (281 M€) will go to the program intended for improving the control systems.

On its turn, 600 million dollars (562 M€) will be used to procure motor rolling stock (new locomotives) and towing equipment (wagons), as well as railway equipment. The network expansion is also critical, therefore, the BNSF has assigned more than 500 million (469 M€) for this plan, regarding the track duplication works on various sections. In the State of Washington, 220 million (226 M€) are awarded for infrastructure and superstructure works on more than 1,260 miles of track (2,027 kilometers), in addition to the signaling and control modernization. Additional programs are also carried out in the State, as well as in New Mexico and Minnesota.


Union Pacific will also make a private investment that will increase its lines’ efficiency and safety. The Company holds 51,000 kilometers of railways in 23 US states equivalent to two thirds of the Western side of the country. In addition, it has business partnerships with almost 200 railways, as well as with road transport companies in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Among the initiatives included in its competitive growth strategy, 513 million dollars (481 M€) are intended for improving the infrastructure, 429 million (402 M€) for maintaining the track, and other 79 (74.05 M€) for rebuilding bridges. In addition, an amount was assigned for the Pinehurst-Navasota line, in the Southeastern Texas in order to replace tracks. Some 22 million dollars (20.62 M€) will go to the San Antonio-Rockdale line. They are all part of its improvement plan to reinforce its position on the freight transport market and to count on a state network under the best conditions. The purpose was to increase the multimodal and interconnected transport system.

The railway has been gaining again in importance in the United States for eight years. The Obama Administration, endorsed by the Congress, approved the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009”. The aim was to redouble the commitment towards the passenger railway transport. The long distance, intercity services, high-speed and new high-speed projects are the most supported. All this with the aim to manage the forecasts regarding the population growth until 2050 and to relieve the air space. The idea is to find a road solution so as to manage the demand of new and better means of mobility in a country with long distances between cities. This law is endowed with an amount of 10,100 million dollars (9,445 M€) to provide railway access to new cores and to improve the speed and frequency of the existing lines. It involves a historical and strategic investment to reinforce a transport network that would be faster, safer and more efficient.

Passenger lines are reborn

More than 135 million Americans, 44% of the population, live in a community linked to a corridor that will benefit from the approved investments. These funds will be allotted to three types of networks. On one hand, for the express services called “Core Express Service”, which operate in the most populated and dense areas of the country, at an average speed of 125-200 miles per hour (201-402 kilometers/hour). On the other hand, the regional lines between big and average cities, as well as the branches linking small communities with the main passenger railway networks are improved.

A relevant datum is that 85% of the federal investments are focused on six key corridors. Together with the first high-speed line, between Los Angeles and San Francisco and the improvements in the high-speed corridor, “Northeast High-Speed Corridor (NEC)”, other four are worth stressing: Seattle-Portland, Chicago-Saint Louis, Chicago-Detroit and from Charlotte to Washington. Various private initiatives are linked to them.

High-speed makes progress

In the passenger transport, the high-speed has been strengthened over the last years in the United States. At present there is a plan, divided into four phases, regarding the construction of 27,000 kilometers until 2030.In addition to being the first line of this nature, California High-Speed Rail; there are various ongoing projects: “Midwest High-Speed Rail Line” between Chicago and Indianapolis or St. Louis and “Texas High-Speed Rail”, between Dallas and Houston. Within this federal funding, in July 2016, an amount of 25 million dollars (23,2 M€) has also been approved for the implementation of 11 projects, in six different states, regarding new control systems under the program called “Positive Train Control Implementation”. With all these, the United States intends to meet the new mobility requirements within its long distance network and to promote the railway.

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