Economic Impact Analysis for Georgia's Short Line Rails

Click to enlarge




Pat McCarthy


Zhe "Carrie" Zhai

National and State rail networks include Class I, II, and III railroads.  The classification depends on the level of operating revenue generated, with at least $467 million and $37.4 million for Class I and II railroads, respectively. Railroads with revenues below $37.4 million are Class III railroads, also known as “short line” railroads.  Short line railroads include local railroads as well as switching and terminal railroads. The State of Georgia rail network currently includes 4,649 route miles. National (Class I) carriers operate 78% of the system and short line rails (Class III) own 528 route miles (11.4%) and GDOT owns the 490 (10.6%) route mileage [1].

Short line railroads are critical to Georgia’s transportation infrastructure and support the efficient movement of goods into and out of the State. This project will quantify the economic impacts associated with short line railroads (SLRs) for Georgia. This is important because without a formal economic impact assessment, it may be difficult to secure adequate funding to maintain these lines.  Consequently, to maintain safe shipment of goods on lines that have not been adequately maintained, lower speed limits and/or lower weight limits are often required.  In addition, bottlenecks can occur (often near switching lines).  This clearly leads to less efficient transportation of goods (by increasing the time and cost associated with shipping goods by rail) and can significantly disrupt the movements of goods to and from Georgia.  Further, as the short lines deteriorate, some shippers may move their goods from rail to truck. This can place stress on the highway network and can shorten pavement life, thereby increasing road maintenance funding needs.

This project will provide information on GDOT-owned short line rail systems and the full economic impact of these systems on Georgia’s economy. Combined with an analysis of the impact that GDOT’s rehabilitation expenditures have had on short line systems, this project will help GDOT allocate its rehabilitation resources to achieve maximum economic impact.