AUSTIN – Steadily increasing traffic will only worsen in the next 20 years, with big-rig trucks expected to increase 100 percent on Texas’ urban roadways. A new study of transportation issues finds the answer to the problem runs counter to conventional wisdom while providing a more cost-effective way to reduce pollution: increasing the use of rail to move freight, not people.
In a study commissioned by the non-partisan Texas Public Policy Foundation, nationally recognized transportation expert Wendell Cox finds that the role of moving freight over rail must be a key consideration in transportation planning, especially in a rapid-growth state like Texas.
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams first raised interest in this subject during a hearing he hosted on April 26, 2001.
“The study breaks important new ground in revealing the significant role freight rail can play in reducing traffic congestion,” said Williams. “As the study makes clear, when deciding how to reduce congestion, public policy should embrace the most cost-effective solutions possible.”
Cox, a member of the federal Amtrak Reform Council, suggests that when policy makers in Texas seek to reduce urban and inter-urban congestion they should carefully consider the role of freight rail.
“Reducing congestion requires a balanced approach that relies on the most effective traffic-containing measures, rather than being biased toward a particular strategy,” notes Cox.
For many years, the only strategy considered has been new passenger rail services. There is a choice to be made, Cox argues, between an effective passenger rail system and an effective freight rail system.
“No nation in the world has both, and both seem to be mutually exclusive,” says Cox. Where rail lines are used for passengers, the amount of freight that can be shipped must be reduced. With trucks taking 3.8 times the road space of a single car, shifting freight from rail to truck quickly increases traffic and smog.
Current projections call for a 100 percent increase in truck traffic through Texas’ urban areas by 2020, which would increase total urban traffic by the equivalent of 20 percent. And if rail freight’s market share falls to the levels seen in Europe, truck traffic could increase 235 percent – the equivalent of a 49 percent increase in overall traffic.
Finally, Cox finds that trucks emit four times more the amount of pollutants per ton-mile than railroads.