Solutionary Rail Book Tour Resources

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Text from back cover:


Could railroads, the oldest form of mechanized mass transportation, be the key to unlocking solutions to some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century?  Unique among modes of long-haul transport, rail can be electrified.  So, why not power trains with renewable energy?  Might a clean, modernized, higher-speed rail network draw freight and passengers off the highways and back onto the tracks?Could electrifying the railroads actually open new transmission corridors and increase the supply and reliability of electricity from wind and solar?  If the rest of the world is already electrifying their railroads, why isn’t the US? 

After three years of inquiry with experts and stakeholders, the Solutionary Rail team addresses these questions and more. The Solutionary Rail vision draws unlikely allies together. It provides common cause to workers, farmers, tribes, urban and rural communities via the tracks and corridors that that connect them. Solutionary Rail invites railroads into a win-win partnership with We the People. Solutionary Rail charts a path forward to tackle interlocking economic, environmental, and social problems. Part action plan and part manifesto, this book is the launch pad for a new people-powered campaign to transform the way we use trains and the corridors they travel through. So, echoing the conductor’s call, “All aboard!”


Pictured here are the original illustrations from J. Craig Thorpe (Email requests for HiRes files HERE).  

Attributions must read: "Illustration by J. Craig Thorpe, provided courtesy of the Backbone Campaign." Solutionary_Rail_1-UrbanSM.jpg

Rail electrification would enhance health and quality of life in major cities and across America. Diesel exhaust poses health threats, and disproportionately affects people of color and the poor who tend to live near yards and lines. Electrification eliminates diesel emissions, reducing health impacts and associated costs. Electrification also cuts noise pollution, reducing stress for people living near lines.



Unique among heavy, long-haul transport modes, railroads can run on electricity, and do so in much of the world. The fixed infrastructure of rail lines enables delivery of power by wires. This opens the door to employing clean, renewable electricity. Railroad corridors could also serve as electricity superhighways transmitting wind and solar energy from remote rural areas to metropolitan markets. 



Communities along the Northern Corridor would be among the greatest beneficiaries of an electrification initiative. Economic development opportunities would expand with improved freight and passenger service. Smaller, trackside communities that have lost rail service could see it restored. Express service from hubs in farm regions would provide new options for agricultural commodities that must move to market quickly such as fruits and vegetables. 



A key element of Solutionary Rail is moving a significant portion of freight from trucks to rail. Strategic reinvestment to increase rail speed and reliability will help recapture the market for rapid delivery of high-value mixed freight. Because rail uses energy more efficiently and can run on renewable electricity, a transportation strategy that aims at deep pollution reductions will seek to divert freight to rail where possible. 



The Solutionary Rail strategy proposes a Public-Private Partnership to electrify approximately 4,400 Northern Corridor track miles. Because of these substantial public benefits to be realized by modernizing and electrifying major rail corridors, it makes sense for the public to partner with private railroads to make the improvements financially feasible. The foundation of the effort is the establishment of a Northern Corridor Steel Interstate Development Authority by states along the corridor. It would be chartered with the authority to raise funds for electrified rail infrastructure investment along the line. 



Rail can offer a major transportation option that is powered by clean, renewable energy, ensuring jobs for rail workers and creating new clean energy jobs for displaced fossil fuel industry workers. Labor must take an active role in new partnerships to electrify and modernize rail. With this should come a new commitment to a fair deal for labor. 


Successful electrification and modernization on a major US rail line will demonstrate success and create competitive pressure that spurs adoption throughout the industry.  Solutionary Rail has identified the BNSF Northern Transcon from Seattle to Chicago and major Northern Corridor branch lines as ideal candidates for such a demonstration. The corridor is among the world’s most important rail shipping routes, a key and sometimes capacity-constrained link to Asia transporting containers and agricultural products. Lines run through mountains and face challenging weather conditions. Northern Corridor electrification represents a robust proof of concept for electrifying lines across the nation.