Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently spoke on the importance of the wind-power industry in the state during a press conference at the Vestas wind turbine component factory near Denver.
“In 2015, Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for wind-power capacity additions,” he said. “An investment in the wind-power industry and in wind projects generates new jobs, economic development in rural counties and clean-air benefits to all Coloradans.”
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Just as essential to the state’s economic development is the freight-rail industry. America’s freight railroads are not strangers to supporting the people of Colorado. More than 2,500 railroad employees in the state earn more than $113,000 annually in wages and benefits.
To accommodate the growth of a booming clean-energy sector, freight rail returned to Weld County after an eight-year hiatus. The upgraded rail line, connecting the Great Western Railway to Union Pacific, is intended to improve the region’s railway commerce and help grow local businesses.
New data presented in a report from Towson University in Maryland shows that the investments of major U.S. railroads created nearly $274 billion in economic activity while supporting approximately 1.5 million jobs and $88 billion in total wages across the country. Likewise, railroads spent almost $28 billion in 2014 to maintain and further modernize their network.
Not only does the freight-rail industry make a significant impact on the economy of Colorado cities and towns, railroads and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand. Rail is the most environmentally sound way to move freight over land.
“Freight rail’s gas mileage is so good that to move a ton of goods from Washington, D.C., to Denver — approximately 1,660 miles — would require less than four gallons of fuel,” writes Ian Jeffries, vice president for government affairs at the Association of American Railroads. “Freight rail today can move a ton of goods 479 miles on a single gallon of fuel. This means less trucks on the road — a single freight train can take the loads of several hundred trucks off the nation’s overcrowded highways — which means cleaner air and an overall cleaner environment.”
Moving freight by rail also decreases the need for costly highway repairs and maintenance, reduces pollution and lowers greenhouse-gas emissions.
Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, their colleagues in Congress and unelected policymakers in various government agencies must understand that in order to ensure freight railroads continue to play a vital role in the economy of Colorado and across the country, they must preserve the smart economic regulations that have allowed railroads to thrive over that past 30 years.
The nation’s freight railroads operate almost exclusively on infrastructure owned, built and maintained by the industry. Since the partial deregulation of the industry in 1980, freight rail has spent more than $600 billion on infrastructure, research, testing and new, more fuel-efficient locomotives.
As the economy grows, so will the need to move more freight. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently forecast that total U.S. freight movements will rise by more than 40 percent by 2045. The implementation of balanced regulations by lawmakers will provide railroads with the opportunity to make the investments needed to best serve the people of Colorado and the wider world.
Sean Conway is a Weld County commissioner.