Shifting a fourth of U.S. freight from trucks to railroads by 2026 would spare each American an average of 41 hours of travel time, 79 gallons of fuel, and $985 in gas expenses each year, according to the seventh annual Congestion Relief Index on Tuesday.
"Freeing up space on our highways increases the flow of traffic and saves commuters' time, money, and gasoline," said Wendell Cox, who wrote the study, backed by the Association of American Railroads, and is the principal of market research firm Demographia.
In addition, the report estimated that more reliance on rail transport would prevent the release of 920,500 tons of air pollution, including nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide.
The cities of Chicago and New York would enjoy the greatest U.S. reduction in emissions, according to the report. And residents of Las Vegas and of the California cities of Riverside and San Bernardino would reap more than $2,100 each in fuel savings, the greatest in the nation.
"Railroads last year were able to move a ton of freight an average of 436 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel," said railroad association president and CEO Edward R. Hamberger, speaking before the U.S. Senate last week. "It's like moving a ton from Boston to Baltimore or Eugene, Ore., to San Francisco on a gallon of fuel."
He called for the government to support bills that would expand tax credits to help railways expand capacity. His group also backs public-private partnerships to fund railroads.
Meanwhile, the cry is growing louder to fix deteriorating roadways and other infrastructure. Next year, the fund that backs federal transportation projects will be $4 billion or more in debt, according to The Economist.
Rising fuel costs are causing those in the transportation industry, as well as commuters, to see trains as an increasingly attractive alternative to freeway travel.
Some Americans are rethinking long commutes that largely shape workday suburban lifestyles.
Many environmental groups and urban planners hope that high-speed trains, which have long zipped people around in Europe and Japan, will alleviate congestion and reduce pollution in the United States.
Californians will have the option to vote in November to back 220 mph high-speed railway projects, which have been proposed in the state for several decades and have the backing of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Others would like to see personal aircraft develop as an alternative to land-bound transport.