Applying Vulnerability Assessments and Triple Bottom Line Considerations to Rail Infrastructure Management: Toward an Integrated Framework for Rail Resilience and Sustainability

Consisting of more than 130,000 miles, rail track infrastructure in the United States faces many challenges. From aging infrastructure to global competitiveness to emerging climate hazards, rail infrastructure managers must face wickedly complex problems. Vulnerability assessments enable agencies to gauge the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of their assets, providing valuable information for where adaptations and additional investment may be necessary and most beneficial. Investing in resilience may reduce the impacts of threats to infrastructure and system users, but these measures alone do not mitigate the drivers of these threats. Considering the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) model of sustainability can further inform rail managers of the underlying environment, economy, and social equity factors impacting and being impacted by rail infrastructure. Moving freight by rail already offers environmental advantages over moving freight by heavy trucking as rail produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires less energy per unit moved. Rail entities also offer economic benefits by investing more private funds than other modal entities and have higher recoverability during disruptive events. Rail operations also have an impact on environmental justice (EJ) communities as increasing numbers of EJ populations appear to be moving closer to rail corridors. Although resilience and sustainability analyses may provide advantageous information to decision makers in the rail industry, there is no formalized framework for incorporating such assessments in rail practices. Furthermore, there are few conceptual frameworks that present an integrated approach to resilience and sustainability for infrastructure asset management in the literature. The hypothesis of this research is that integrating resilience and sustainability analyses will produce more valuable outputs and outcomes than assessing either concept separately in transportation planning and decision making. This research will apply climate vulnerability assessments and the TBL approach to sustainability to rail infrastructure planning and resource allocation decision making. The results will be validated by rail operators and administrators to support improved investments in rail that are resilient to extreme events, protect the natural environment, enhance economic competitiveness, and improve societal quality of life, equitably. Based on feedback from rail practitioners, the research will develop implementation and conceptual frameworks for integrated consideration of resilience and sustainability in rail planning and resource allocation decision making.