The National Academies

NCHRP 20-29 [Completed]

Development of a Multimodal Framework for Freight Transportation Investment: Consideration of Rail and Highway Trade-offs

  Project Data
Funds: $150,000
Research Agency: Texas Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Dr. Steven Roop
Effective Date: 5/15/1992
Completion Date: 8/31/1994

Transportation systems and policy in the United States have developed along modal lines with different patterns of ownership. For example, public agencies plan, build, operate and maintain the highway infrastructure, and private firms plan, build, operate, and maintain rail lines. While there have been some variations on this pattern with the construction of private toll roads and the investment of public funds in rail planning and rehabilitation, public planning and investment decisions are usually made independently by mode. The negative effects of this dichotomy have become apparent, for example, when rail lines are abandoned. With few exceptions, federal and state highway trust funds are invested strictly in roads not rail. Similarly, rail funds under the Local Rail Freight Assistance (LRFA) Act and similar state programs may be used for substitute service, but they are rarely, if ever, invested in highways. Modally oriented planning and investment have been shown to be economically inefficient and generate fewer social benefits than might be achieved under a multimodal approach. For example, research has indicated that the abandonment of rail lines, with the diversion of traffic from rail to truck, can significantly increase highway infrastructure costs. Thus, the investment of public funds in rail branch lines can not only generate shipper benefits, but also reduce future highway and bridge costs.

The objectives of this research were to develop a framework for efficient and effective multimodal investment practices, demonstrate the viability and applicability of the framework, identify obstacles to implementation at the state and local levels, and develop strategies for successfully implementing improved practices. The research will evaluate varied examples of transportation investment trade-offs, focusing on rail-highway trade-offs in state rail program activities.

The research involved (1) identification of sound multimodal transportation investment practices, both domestic and foreign, which have relevance in the United States, (2) identification of areas of suboptimization and inefficiency in multimodal transportation investment practices from regional, state, local and/or national perspectives, (3) definition of an efficient and effective framework for transportation investment and the factors appropriate for inclusion in the framework (e.g., pavement damage, transportation costs, direct and indirect economic impacts, energy use, productivity, air quality, and safety impacts), (4) case study analysis to demonstrate the application of the framework, and (5) formulation of a plan to implement the framework within a state agency to improve multimodal investment decisionmaking. The effort focused on the highway and railroad impacts in rail line abandonment cases to demonstrate the applicability of the analysis framework.

Status: The final report has been approved and a continuation contract, initiated to prepare software for the application of the analysis framework, is underway in NCHRP Project 20-29(2). A final report covering both projects will be prepared at the completion of the continuation project.

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