How Shared Use Can Pay Off

In early 2009, the Obama Administration laid the groundwork for state-sponsored DOTs to apply for federal funding to provide new passenger train services. The federal funding was intended to develop new right-of-way, or to augment existing lines for new passenger operations. Building separate infrastructure would be the ideal approach, as this would allow for higher passenger train speeds and service frequencies.

In North America, however, building of new infrastructure faces impediments. While most states have transportation development plans, the hurdles to building new rail lines are enormous from finding capital and acquiring right-of-way to environmental concerns and winning approval from all stakeholders.

In the near term, new intercity passenger services likely will need to utilize existing freight infrastructure. Such "shared use" systems can be found in Europe, Asia, and Australia. The difference, however, is that in most of the world, governments build and own the infrastructure, putting freight and passenger rail operators on an equal footing. In North America, the private sector owns the freight railroad network. All parties need to consider operating and financial models where passenger operations can successfully coexist on this private network. The public benefits derived from shared-use infrastructure cannot be allowed to diminish the quality of current and proposed private freight services, the availability of scarce line capacity, and continued access to private capital by private entities.

There are workable solutions for bridging the gap between passenger and freight rail needs.

How Shared Use Can Pay Off