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By Michael Sussman

In 1995, I began studying the infrastructure investment strategies of industry, government, and society. Since then my company, Strategic Rail Finance has coordinated financing for railroad projects in 35 U.S. states. In 2007 I founded OnTrackNorthAmerica, a non-profit transportation policy and planning organization, to share what I have learned for society’s benefit.

What caught my attention in 1995 was the declining use of freight railroads and trains in favor of cars and trucks – despite the inherent energy, capital, and space efficiencies of rail transport. I wondered: why do we continue to invest the lion’s share of public and private capital toward less efficiency rather than more efficiency?

So I have devoted my business and non-profit organizations to turning around the economic principles that we have been relying on to advance major infrastructure systems.

Perspective on News, Legislation, and Plans

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-32-15 directing numerous state agencies to collaborate on and develop an "integrated action plan" by July 2016 that establishes clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase the competitiveness of California's freight system. Caltrans and other state agencies have already solicited comments and are now fully engaged in the development of the action plan. OnTrackNorthAmerica’s intention is that the action plan implement strategies that better deploy freight rail’s economic and environmental benefits.

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has been working throughout 2015 to contribute its expertise in freight transportation land use planning to the state’s progress. In light of the significant projected increases in the state’s freight traffic over the next 25 years, California must focus on the optimal integration of  freight transportation and land use. Lower emission truck and locomotive engines alone will not be enough. Conserving highway capacity and road maintenance expenses requires an optimal modal balance between truck and rail modes.

OnTrackNorthAmerica’s innovative initiatives and collaborative activities are made possible by donations from many individuals. To help accelerate OTNA’s achievement of its vital mission,
we encourage you to consider making a donation.

What Needs to be Said, by Michael Sussman

”Preserving competition in the marketplace,” by itself, is an incomplete regulatory principle that must be augmented with thoughtful collaboration if we are to produce an optimal, sustainable transportation system. When we saw the need for paving muddy roads to and from the railroads in the early 20th century, we missed the opportunity to thoughtfully integrate the newly developing freight highway system with the highly developed rail system. The resulting competition in commerce and public policy triggered a disastrous long-term shrinkage of the geographic footprint of the rail network leading to a suboptimal transportation system.

Coordinating across industries, companies, agencies, and indeed political parties requires respect, collaboration, and consensus-based decision-making processes. Our governing system, however, is structured to manage competing “factions” instead. Competition in the marketplace, competition for government attention, and competitive debate, rather than thoughtful deliberation, have stifled our collective ability to address the thornier issues of our day.

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OTNA Initiative Updates

OnTrackNorthAmerica and Cisco Systems sign MOU to co-lead OTNA’s National Transportation Life-Cycle Costs and Benefits Project

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) and Cisco Systems, Inc. (Cisco) announce their partnership to build the next generation of transportation life-cycle cost and benefit measurement tools. The purpose of this project is to develop clear, functional measures for future planning and investing in transportation infrastructure. Once established, OTNA and Cisco will make the dataset and analytical framework available for wide adoption. The co-leaders will present their draft list of measures for stakeholders to expand and fine tune during a series of “Intelliconferences”.

Barry Einsig, Cisco’s Global Transportation Executive, says, “We are pleased to join OTNA in addressing the timely need for agreement on what we want transportation investments to produce for us as a nation and a continent.”

According to OTNA’s president, Michael Sussman, “Applying a rational approach to measuring the life-cycle costs and benefits of transport systems, rail will finally be valued appropriately for its long-term return on investment. Cisco brings a wealth of intellectual resources to this important endeavor. By inviting stakeholders from business, government, and community, we intend to generate collective intelligence towards policies, plans, and investments that serve the country.”

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