Washington state short line rail inventory and needs assessment.
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Washington state short line rail inventory and needs assessment.

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  • Abstract:
    The recently completed State Rail Plan for the state of Washington identified several key issues facing the state’s

    rail system. Among these key issues are abandonment, port access and competitive needs of the ports and local

    production regions, as well as intermodal connectivity. Nearly 2000 miles of rail line had been abandoned in

    Washington State before the late 1990’s, and another 70 have been abandoned since. Many of these miles included

    were a result of the Class I railroads stepping away from their less profitable lines. These same actions by the Class I

    railroads also generated opportunity for the creation of many of the state’s short-line railroads on branch and light

    density lines. The rail system grew smaller during the 1980s and 1990s, and many of the state short lines were not

    upgraded to meet the standards and conditions required for modern freight rail load limits (286,000 pounds per car).

    Further investment is needed should the state or owner seek new or improved operations. This study found that more

    than 55 percent (740 miles) of all short line miles within Washington are not able to efficiently handle 286,000 pound

    rail cars. Overcoming this deficiency and bringing the state’s short line system to Class II operating status could require

    infrastructure investments of approximately $610 million. This need exceeds the current funding support offered by the

    state, even if considered over a 20 year horizon with private industry and/or local jurisdictions providing significant

    match. Three short line case studies in this report help identify the societal benefits associated with a functioning short

    line system within the state’s dynamic transportation network. These case studies, along with information about the

    attributes that contribute to the success or failure of investments in load centers, illustrate the benefits of state

    investment in the short line railroad system.

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