The National Academies

NCHRP 08-42 [Final]

Rail-Freight Solutions to Roadway Congestion

  Project Data
Funds: $449,990
Research Agency: Reebie Associates
Principal Investigator: Joseph Bryan
Effective Date: 7/11/2002
Completion Date: 3/1/2007

Background: Interaction between rail and other modes of freight movement continues to be an issue for transportation planners. On the one hand, concerns about reliability, flexibility, and timeliness have contributed to a decline in market share for rail-freight movements. On the other hand, congestion, air quality, safety, and security concerns lead planners to consider rail options. There is a particular need to analyze the impacts and opportunities for public investment in rail-freight capacity to help mitigate roadway congestion.

Congestion in urban areas and intercity corridors is a growing concern. Truck traffic has become a significant contributor to road congestion. In addition, many planners see rail as an underutilized mode. Increasing the opportunities to move freight by rail could help decrease deterioration of existing highways, while positively affecting congestion, safety, and pollution. Federal, state, local, and private-sector transportation planners could use the products of this research to develop cooperative relationships, which might include cost sharing in construction and operation of future facilities that include rail as a necessary component of transportation corridors.

Objective: The objective of this project is to develop a Guidebook for assessing the merits of public investment in rail-freight solutions to relieve roadway congestion and for applying tools that demonstrate how best to incorporate rail-freight into urban and intercity transportation decision making.

The study will identify: (1) rail-freight solutions for current and anticipated congestion, (2) key factors and stakeholders, and (3) obstacles and strategies to overcome them.

Tasks: Accomplishment of the project objective will require the following tasks. (1.) Conduct a review of all relevant literature and ongoing research on rail-freight economics, rail and intermodal planning, rail relocation, rail/road conflicts, benefit-cost analysis and modeling, and public/private partnerships. (2.) Identify illustrative examples where rail-freight solutions might apply to relieve present and future roadway congestion problems. These examples should include, but not be limited to, congested ports, aging commercial centers, congested interstate corridors, outdated terminal facilities, and rapidly growing cities. For each example, evaluate the potential for rail solutions to address these problems. Identify the key factors that determine whether rail will be an appropriate or successful alternative. (3.) Evaluate the likely impacts of diverting various levels of freight traffic from truck to rail. Identify the constraints related to specific commodities that influence modal choice. The impacts and constraints should include economic, development, social, environmental, and safety and security factors, as applied to the private and public sectors. Estimate the consequences of "do nothing alternatives." (4.) Identify short-term and long-term trends in freight movements and land use that affect congestion. Identify the potential to mitigate congestion or grade crossing conflicts through strategies such as terminal and track relocation or consolidation, street closings, use of brownfields and other vacant lands as urban freight centers, public-sector rolling stock investments, rail shuttles/mini trains, improved road access to rail intermodal hub facilities, and inland ports. (5.) Review existing models, current business practices, and other criteria that should influence decision making on public investment in rail-freight transportation. Based on existing information and original research, outline a preliminary design for a public investment decision-making model (including benefit-cost analysis) specific to rail. (6.) Submit an interim report to document the results of Tasks 1 through 5 for review by the NCHRP. The contractor will be expected to meet with the NCHRP panel approximately 1 month later. The interim report should include a modified workplan to accomplish the remaining tasks, as well as a draft outline of the proposed final Guidebook. (7.) Review current policies, practices, and barriers at all levels of government with respect to rail-freight, for example, current levels of investment, legislative restrictions on funding programs (including state constitutional prohibitions against public-sector investment in private enterprise), time required for project implementation, and environmental permitting requirements. Summarize how these policies and practices facilitate or inhibit public-sector investment in rail-freight and recommend how to more effectively include rail-freight in the public-sector decision-making process at all levels of government. Assess the feasibility and potential benefits of designating rail corridors of national significance and propose a framework that would enable major rail-freight policy issues to be addressed, coordinated, and funded on a nationwide basis. The framework should address a long-term strategy for coordinated public investment in rail-freight as a congestion mitigation strategy. The framework should include consideration of Class 1, short line, local and regional railroads, as well as public investment in rail infrastructure for transit, commuter, and intercity passenger rail services that may result in expanded capacity for rail-freight. (8.) Recommend best practices for forming public-public and public-private partnerships for rail-freight projects. Outline and identify how to address the practical, institutional, legislative, and competitive impediments to forming effective partnerships. Identify the driving factors that will motivate or discourage private- or public-sector participation. Develop guidelines for cost sharing between jurisdictions or between public agencies and private companies. (9.) Based on the design developed in Task 5 and approved by the project panel, develop and deliver a public investment decision-making model (including benefit-cost analysis) specific to rail. (10.) Assess the adequacy of the currently available data that was used to conduct the analyses required in Tasks 3 and 4. Suggest methods to improve these data sources in the future. (11.) Based on the results of all preceding tasks, develop and deliver a Guidebook for assessing the merits of public investment in rail-freight solutions to relieve congestion. The Guidebook will include tools for incorporating rail into urban and intercity transportation decision-making. (12.) Develop an implementation strategy for the Guidebook aimed at specific target audiences (e.g., practitioners and decision makers in large metropolitan areas, large ports, Class 1 railroads, state DOTs, U.S. DOT, and elected officials.) (13.) Submit a final report that documents the entire research effort and provide the Task 11 Guidebook as a separate stand-alone document. In addition, the final report should include a companion executive summary that outlines the major findings.

Status: The guidebook was published in November 2007. 

Product availability: The guidebook has been published as NCHRP Report 586 and can be purchased or downloaded from the TRB . 

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