Access vs. Isolation: Preserving Appalachia’s Rail Connectivity in the 21st Century

This study, commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission, assesses the impact that significant reductions in Appalachian coal production is having on the Region’s network of rail freight services. The study reviews the history of the Region’s railways and highlights the important role coal production had in the development of an extensive rail network that provided Appalachia with reliable and cost-efficient access to both domestic and global markets. The study also tracks the recent decline in coal production and highlights the threat this represents to the continued economic viability of many of the Region’s rail freight resources and capabilities, and summarizes the importance of preserving future rail transportation access and highlights a variety of opportunities to help ensure that Appalachia maintains its transportation connectivity in the 21st century.

The study comprises two documents. Part One is an overview of the quickly emerging challenges facing Appalachia’s rail freight network. Part Two is an in-depth analysis of the significant reduction in the Region’s coal production, the current and future economic and employment impact of these changes on the rail network, and specific actions that can help ensure that Appalachia can preserve the domestic and international connectivity necessary to support economic and employment success in the future.