Transformation through investment and reasonable regulation

The states, according to a phrase popularized by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1932 opinion, are the laboratories of democracy. They are free to “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

The fundamental truth of this statement still rings loudly today. So much so that Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) will focus his year as chair of the National Governors Association highlighting governors’ innovative solutions to today’s most pressing problems.

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Even older than the truism about state experimentalism is the story of railroads connecting communities and companies across our country. Freight railroads have played a transformational role in the development of America – revolutionizing transportation and catalyzing the country’s economic development for more than 180 years.

In the U.S., we now move an astonishing 54 tons of freight for each person every year. This takes a fully integrated supply chain working together across all modes and across the entire nation. The rail network is the backbone of this system.

What was originally connected with a golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah is now a 140,000-mile network that carries approximately 40 percent of intercity freight, moves one third of all U.S. exports and sustains more than one million jobs. It is the most efficient, cost effective and reliable freight rail system in the world.

The scale and efficiency of this network and the massive investments by the privately owned railroads that own and maintain it are key drivers of economic growth. All across our states are examples of farms, factories, mills and mines that are part of the global economy because of freight rail.

There’s the winery in California that uses rail to lessen its carbon footprint, the once-shuttered shingle factory in Ohio that is now a booming trans-load facility, the fertilizer facility in Illinois that is lessening dependence on imported nitrogen, the wind turbine installation in Colorado, port facilities across the nation providing American consumers with the goods they use every day – all sustained by freight rail.

If the states are the laboratories of democracy, then the railroads are the laboratories of efficiency and safety. Every year since 1980, when Congress passed legislation allowing railroads to operate like other businesses, railroads have continued to make massive investments in their networks - $600 billion to date – to become more efficient and provide better service to companies and communities across the U.S.

These efficiencies spur economic development, reduce emissions related to goods movement, save taxpayers money and continue to make a safe industry even safer.

Last year, Congress took major steps forward on issues affecting railroads. By extending the deadline for implementing positive train control, strengthening the standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, streamlining the permit process for rail projects and reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Board, our senators and representatives secured the foundation of continued transformation and economic development brought about by rail investments.

As governors and county leaders from around the country gather in our nation’s capital this week, we applaud Congress for its actions on rail issues in 2015. We salute railroads for their innovation and investment. At a time of dollar-stretching for state and local governments, we call on leaders at all levels of government to continue to harness the power of freight rail. By maintaining the reasonable regulation that has allowed railroads to invest in their networks – an expected $26 billion in 2016 – we allow railroads to continue to strengthen their networks and support job creation nationwide. That’s transformation that benefits us all.

Barr is the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Hart is executive vice president of Governmental Affairs and Political Operations at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Willoughby is the director of Energy, Environment and Infrastructure at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

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