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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Freight Rail Overview

Freight Rail Infographic


The Freight Rail Network

Running on almost 140,000 route miles, the U.S. freight rail network is widely considered the largest, safest, and most cost-efficient freight system in the world. [1] The nearly $80-billion freight rail industry is operated by seven Class I railroads [2] (railroads with operating revenues of $490 million or more) [3] and 22 regional and 584 local/short line railroads. [4] It provides more than 167,000 jobs [5] across the United States and offers ancillary benefits that other modes of transportation cannot, including reductions in road congestion, highway fatalities, fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, cost of logistics, and public infrastructure maintenance costs.

Unlike roadways, U.S. freight railroads are owned by private organizations who are responsible for their own maintenance and improvement projects. Compared with other major modes of transportation, railroad owners invest one of the highest percentages of revenues (19 percent) to maintain and add capacity to their system, spending nearly $25 billion annually. [6]


[1] See Railway Technology, “The world’s 10 longest railway networks,” February 2014; Association of American Railroads, “Overview of America’s Freight Railroads,” March 2020.
[2] The seven Class I freight railroads are: BNSF Railway Co., Canadian National Railway (Grand Trunk Corporation), Canadian Pacific (Soo Line Corporation), CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway Co., Norfolk Southern Combined Railroad Subsidiaries, and Union Pacific Railroad Co. The combined revenue of Class I railroads equaled $67 billion in 2017.
[3] Association of American Railroads, “Overview of America’s Freight Railroads,” March 2020.
[4] Association of American Railroads,
Railroad Facts, 2019 Edition, 3.
[6] Association of American Railroads, “Freight Railroad Capacity and Investment,” March 2020.


Last updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2020