Solutionary Rail campaign would electrify the nation’s rail system

(March 8, 2017) — Could railroads, the oldest form of mechanized mass transportation, be the key to unlocking solutions to some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century? Unique among modes of long-haul transport, rail can be electrified. So, why not power trains with renewable energy? Might a clean, modernized, higher-speed rail network draw freight and passengers off the highways and back onto the tracks?

Illustrations by J. Craig Thorpe

Solutionary Rail is a “people-powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads, run trains on renewable energy, and open corridors to a clean energy future.” It’s a vision for infrastructural investment that would bring to the United States the electrified higher-speed service already common on public railroads in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

The idea sufficiently intrigued the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO that delegates to its 2016 Convention approved a resolution calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to “direct the Washington State Department of Transportation and other appropriate state agencies to evaluate the feasibility of the Solutionary Rail proposal and to bring the general concept of rail corridor electrification, powered by renewable energy, into the broader ‘green’ industrial transportation system.” (Sign a petition to Gov. Inslee here.)

Vashon Island activist Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign, says he has worked with a team of environmentalists, laborers and rail industry experts for three years to develop Solutionary Rail. He has co-authored a new book on the idea that he calls “part action plan and part manifesto” and invites all to purchase it through to support a network of independent bookstores.

“Rail electrification, as proposed in this remarkable book, is that rarest of things: a genuinely new idea, and one that makes immediate gut sense,” said climate activist and author Bill McKibben, co-founder of

“While corridor concepts go back generations, this group has brought fresh ideas as to what a future corridor might look like,” said Mike Elliott of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “Without new concepts to stimulate innovation, progress stagnates. Solutionary Rail provides something tangible for all stakeholders to consider and to build upon.”

“Electrification is not only our best option for passenger rail travel but also for freight rail.  Both are commonplace throughout the rest of the industrial world,” said Denis Hayes, President of the Bullitt Foundation and principal national organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970. “With analytical rigor, Backbone Campaign’s Solutionary Rail Team shows how we can break through barriers to bring mass rail electrification to the U.S. This is an indispensable book for everyone curious about how to move people and good long distances at high speed in a carbon-constrained world.”

Moyer and members of the Solutionary Rail team host a twice-monthly conference call to discuss the latest developments in this campaign. The next one is tonight (Wednesday, March 8) at 5 p.m., followed by Wednesday, March 22 at 5 p.m. Click here to RSVP and participate.

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