Study confirms railroads play a huge role in economic development

September 26, 2016
Article originally published by Daily Herald
By Roger C. Claar and Chad Jasmin
Guest columnists

In Bolingbrook, we're part of a high-tech rail renaissance that largely flies below the radar.

Technology jobs here at Wi-Tronix, made possible by freight and passenger railroads, are making the safest transportation mode for moving people and goods even safer while strengthening the local economy. And we are not alone.

A new study from Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) found that spending by Class I railroads created $274 billion in economic activity and generated nearly $33 billion in total tax revenues in 2014 while supporting 1.5 million jobs around the country. That means that one job in the freight rail industry supports nine others across the U.S. economy.

This analysis confirms what we in Chicagoland already know: freight railroads are not only incredibly important to our daily lives, but they also create jobs and spur economic development.

Every year, an interconnected web of trucks, trains, barges and planes ships 54 tons of goods for every American, on average. That requires robust infrastructure and a complex logistics industry to make sure the lights come on, the shelves are stocked and the economy continues to grow.

This goods movement and logistics industry is a huge part of the Chicago economy because Chicago is the nation's busiest rail hub. All seven of the nation's largest railroads serve Chicago, the nexus of East-West and North-South rail traffic. This makes spending by freight railroads a huge driver of the local economy.

Wi-Tronix, based in Bolingbrook, is a great example of how railroads invest in technologies to improve the efficiency and safety of their network. The products designed and built here integrate the latest technologies to monitor high-value mobile assets all over the world, including locomotives and other rail components in the U.S. and Canada.

By monitoring and collecting data, railroads can improve their efficiency and service to customers while also improving safety. Wi-Tronix's newest product, Violet™, is a smart system that directly supports required hardware for government-mandated Positive Train Control (PTC). Violet streams real-time event recorder information to railroads, a new innovation in the transportation industry.

The ongoing investment of private freight rail dollars into infrastructure and technology is a huge economic driver, as the Towson study showed. In turn, this success hinges on smart, balanced economic regulations that allow railroads to earn sufficient capital to continue that investment.

As Chicagoland continues to grow our regional economy, streamline the area passenger and freight rail networks and improve quality of life, we are fortunate to have freight railroads as our partners.

We know from personal experience how important railroads are to our economy, their constant striving for even greater efficiency and safety, and how they make an unsung difference in our daily lives.

Now there is new data to back these observations up and illustrate the true magnitude of the freight rail effect.

Roger C. Claar has served as mayor of Bolingbrook since 1986. Chad Jasmin is vice president of customer strategy at Wi-Tronix, LLC, headquartered in Bolingbrook, which provides products and services to rail, marine and other commercial and industrial operations.

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