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Petitioning Governor Jay Inslee

Lead the charge for Solutionary Rail to make rail the backbone for sustainable transport, good jobs and a resilient regional economy.

Solutionary Rail: Low-carbon transportation for new jobs and prosperity

Radical increases in coal and oil shipments by rail pose critical problems.  Coal trains threaten public health by spewing coal dust.  Oil trains endanger public safety by carrying explosive crude shipments, and water quality with the growing potential for spills.  Carbon pollution from coal and oil is causing increasingly severe climate disruption and ocean acidification harmful to marine life.    

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Rail can be the backbone of a low-carbon transportation system that dramatically reduces pollution while building new jobs and prosperity.  That is the Solutionary Rail vision.  

Solutionary Rail is a project of the Backbone Campaign aimed at creating a better future for railroads, rail workers, rail communities and all of us.  Solutionary Rail is a proposal to increase rail speed, capacity and reliability in order to attract freight from polluting, highway-damaging trucks to low-carbon rail and revitalize intercity passenger rail.  Creating an electrified, modernized railroad system is an essential step toward eliminating rail's current dependence upon hauling heavy fossil fuel commodities that endanger us all and contribute to climate chaos, and building infrastructure for sustainable transport and resilient communities, and a vibrant regional economy and healthy environment.  We envision the: 

Electrification of main rail lines from Seattle to Chicago,

Modernizing tracks to accommodate speeds of 90-125 mph;

Running of trains on renewable energy

 

Electrification:

Electrification works in Europe, Asia and South America.  Around half of rail freight worldwide moves with electricity.    A ton of freight transported by electric rail requires around 5% of the energy it takes to move it by diesel truck per mile. Even with trucking needed to deliver shipments to rail terminals, energy savings averaging around 75% per shipment can be expected. Railroads propelled by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources will emit close to zero carbon pollution.  Modernized rail also provides low-carbon options to driving and flying.  

In the U.S. high upfront costs of electrification discourage investment.  Publicly owned railroads in other nations are able to gain public support. U.S. private railroads must finance their own improvements. High initial costs of electrifying lines make these low-priority investments.  Public interest in carbon reduction and high-quality rail service justifies public policy support to level the playing field for needed investments. An interstate development bank could leverage the capacity of public agencies to raise low-cost capital that would fund publicly-owned rail electrification infrastructure.

 

The Northern Transcon is the old Great Northern Line:

The way to kickstart rail electrification in the U.S. is to demonstrate success on one major line. Solutionary Rail has identified BNSF’s Northern Transcon from Seattle to Chicago as the top candidate. The Northern Transcon is a nationally important shipping line for containers and agricultural products, and is used by Amtrak for passenger service.  It is increasingly a conduit for fossil fuels. Rail offers an alternative based on electrifying rail. Improved service will meet the demand for rapid delivery of high-value freight as well as passengers.  This provides railroads and rail workers with better and more profitable economic options than shipping coal and oil.    

BNSF is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett. We appeal to Mr. Buffett to leave a legacy for climate and future generations by moving away from fossil fuel propulsion and transportation to electrified rail and renewable energy. We ask Mr. Buffett join with railroad workers, environmental and civic groups, rail communities and the many citizens concerned about increasing rail fossil fuel traffic to help us pass the public policies needed to electrify and modernize rail. 

In return for the substantial economic benefits offered by Solutionary Rail, fairness demands that Warren Buffet and BNSF blaze a new trail in labor-management relations as a model for other railroads and the U.S economy in general. Our vision for sustainable 21st Century rail embraces labor policies that will ensure a healthier and more productive workforce.  See BuffettLegacy.org

We believe the place to start Solutionary Rail is Washington state. Governor Jay Inslee is committed to a climate and clean energy agenda as outlined in his book Apollo’s Fire. Solutionary Rail on the Northern Transcon is a launching point for this clean energy revolution.  Working with the legislature and other governors Governor Inslee can forward creation of the interstate development bank. 

Solutionary Rail can be the engine that propels an economically prosperous and environmentally sustainable future. With leadership from Governor Inslee and an alliance of labor, business, communities, public interest groups and Warren Buffett himself, we can put the policies in place to make Solutionary Rail a reality.

 

Who Benefits?

Working people in need of meaningful, living-wage jobs creating, maintaining and providing the services related to this new infrastructure;

Farmers whose crops are now delayed by limited, slow rail capacity due to an infrastructure clogged up with heavy fossil fuel transport and unavailable for crops that must get to port, or that must get to market quickly and reliably;

First Nations under threat of devastating consequences of extreme fossil fuel extraction and/or whose traditions and sacred places are under threat by fossil fuel transport;

Railroad workers whose schedules have them perpetually on call with their and others' safety imperiled by oil trains, one person crews, whistle-blower intimidation and retaliation, and whose fragmented labor representation could be unified for stronger negotiating power and more jobs;

Fishermen who want to stop ocean acidification;

Climate and environmental activists needing concrete paths forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the other harmful impacts of extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels;

Renewable energy advocates needing a win/win/win breakthrough on smart grid investment, and stable market for renewable energy;

Public health authorities concerned with diesel emissions;

Emergency responders and communities next to tracks dreading the next inevitable oil train explosion;

Train rider associations interested in faster track speeds; and of course;

Municipal leaders who desire more efficient transportation of people and goods to boost local economies;

Utilities investing in renewable energy assets that need transmission infrastructure;

Federal and state leaders needing a long term solution to transport infrastructure;

Everyone benefits from a more stable climate and cleaner environment.

Visit Solutionary Rail to learn more about the proposal, join the campaign, and be an citizen emissary.  Contributions to support this effort will be matched dollar for dollar until March 1, 2015.  Pitch in at http://BackboneCampaign.org/donate

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