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Official website of the Department of Homeland Security

Freight Rail



The freight railroad network is a vital part of the national economy, playing a key role in the global supply chain for both raw and finished goods. There are approximately 140,000 miles of active railroad track in the United States, upon which 565 common carrier freight railroads operate.

Freight railroads serve nearly every industrial, wholesale, retail, and resource-based sector of the U.S. economy, and are responsible for transporting a majority of goods and commodities that Americans depend on daily. Since other sectors rely on railroads as a primary transportation provider, disruptions to the national rail network could have an adverse impact on the national economy as a whole.

The current freight rail system is a diverse network of companies (both large and small), who compete and cooperate economically with one another. In the absence of one single coast-to-coast freight rail operator, these carriers have developed various interchange, joint services, and voluntary access agreements that allow for the transfer of rail cars between carriers, as well as the operation of one carrier’s train on the tracks of another. Freight railroads are divided into three classes based on their size and operating revenues:

Freight Railroad Classes


Class I

Operate over large areas, in multiple states, and concentrate on the long-haul, high-density, intercity traffic lines with annual revenues over $250 million.

Class II (Regional)

Operate on at least 350 miles of active lines and have annual revenues between $20 and $250 million.

Class III (Shortline)

Operate on less than 350 miles of line and generate less than $20 million in annual revenues.

The fundamental challenge to securing the freight rail network is to protect against a constantly changing, unpredictable threat environment without impeding the continuous movement and free flow of commerce that is required in today’s “just-in-time” supply chain.


The Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement Surface Freight Rail Branch leads the unified national effort to protect and secure the Nation’s freight rail system.


The Freight Rail Security Branch will ensure the secure movement of all cargo on our nation’s freight rail systems and promote the free flow of commerce by working with our public and private sector partners to maintain a secure, resilient, and sustainable network.


We will accomplish our mission by working with our sector partners through regulatory and collaborative measures applying objectively measured risk reduction methodology to identify gaps and security measures necessary to enhance the freight rail network.

Goals & Objectives

Goal 1: Prevent and deter acts of terrorism using, or against, the transportation system.

  • Terrorists may use attacks to directly disrupt the freight rail transportation system or use the cargo transported by a railroad to carry out larger attacks against the American people. The Sector aims to prevent and deter terrorist attacks before they happen without disrupting the free flow of commerce or compromising civil liberties.


Goal 2: Enhance the all-hazard preparedness and resilience of the global transportation system to safeguard U.S. national interests.

  • The resilience of the freight rail sector can be improved by increasing its ability to accommodate and absorb damage from natural disasters or terrorist attacks without catastrophic failure. Resilience-improving strategies include a wide variety of mitigation activities, including support of response and recovery activities.


Goal 3: Improve the effective use of resources for transportation security.

  • Minimizing unnecessary duplication of efforts, improving coordination, and aligning resources to address the highest risks of the Sector will improve the effective use of resources.


Goal 4: Improve Sector situational awareness, understanding, and collaboration.

Strengthen partnerships to further national interests.

Latest revision: 05 August 2014