The overall purpose of this report was to determine how shippers and shortline railroads are impacted by the use of heavy cars (286,000 lb) on branch lines with light rail or deferred tie maintenance. Specific objectives were to determine how shippers were handling the problem, the need for investment in trackage and the magnitude of that investment to sustain viability of shortline railroads and branch lines in Washington State.
Even with innovative short run solutions, investment in upgrading trackage appears to be the only long-term solution. Approximately 480 miles need to be upgraded to effectively handle 280,000-lb carloads. It will cost $250,000-$300,000 per mile to upgrade inadequate branch lines. The cost for the state of Washington is from $110 to $141 million, not including bridge rehabilitation. If lines aren't upgraded, many of them may be abandoned and the economic benefits of the larger railcars are lost to shippers.