Prototype External Cost Calculator

Solutionary Rail's created this example "mock up" or BETA external cost calculator in order to spur on US agencies to engage in interagency collaboration to characterize the actual impacts of freight transportation choices, public policies and investment in infrastructure that best serves a complex array of public interests. We hope you will play with selecting origin and destination pairs to see the data it generates. 
  • Documentation and open source code for the this BETA version of the External Cost Calculator can be found HERE
  • Many thanks to Huajing Shi for volunteering her time and skills to develop this prototype tool. 
  • Additional background document from Kansas DOT is HERE

Message to policy makers and allies:

An External Cost of Transportation Calculator is an essential tool for making infrastructure investments and policy decisions in the public interest. Though US agencies have all the data necessary, that data is not combined and marshalled to its full potential. Solving this problem quickly is easily doable. All that is needed is leadership from either the Biden administration or Congress.

The EU's External Cost of Transport Handbook published in 2019 provides a template for action in the US. We already have an Alphabet Soup of agencies with sources of data and tools for visualizing it:
  • USDOT's Freight Analysis Framework (FAF) tracks the volume and value of freight between origins and destinations and a variety of "distance bands."  It is parsed by commodity type, weight, value and mode of transport.  
  • The Surface Transportation Board (STB) collects waybill data for most if not all railroad shipments.
  • The USDA tracks agricultural transport and utilizes BTS and other data to create excellent transport visualization tools to track the movement of agricultural products. 
  • The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is funded by the US government to calculate the cost of congestion, and have developed an excellent user interface. 
  • The EPA has the SmartWays program to calculate the impacts of emissions for shippers and is actively partnering with communities and institutions to map health impacts from mobile sources. 
Tragically, these tools and data remain silo'd. Those in charge of collecting and organizing this data have not been instructed to "connect the dots" despite the inherently interconnected nature of issues such as wear and tear, traffic congestion, water quality, public health and climate impacts. It is time to remedy this situation. 
An External Cost of Transportation Calculator would make calculating the impacts of public investment choices and private shipping choices easily measurable and provide a powerful tool to policy makers, regulators, planners and public interest advocates. It would require backup documentation similar to the External Costs of Transportation Handbook published by the EU in 2019 to document the methodologies and provide guidance to users. 
As the Infrastructure bill is going to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure the time for this tool is now. Call on the Biden administration and Congress to develop a tool to marshal our data to assess transportation choices for their cumulative impacts, external costs, relative efficiencies or disproportionate harms. 


As you can see, this tool is an expression of might be possible were US data marshalled to characterize the current state of freight transportation impacts. Solutionary Rail welcomes collaboration to further develop this prototype. Ultimately however, this work ought to be done is a more robust, accessible and comprehensive manner by the public agencies intersecting with the freight transport system.

Some next steps in developing the functionality of the tool relative to FAF4 variables might be:
  1. Allow user to select a Zone, and then one or more distance bands.
  2. Allow the user to select either "origin" , "destination", and/or "sum of origin+destination" according to either OD pair /or according to the distance bands if that is the selected parameter.
  3. Express OD pairs within the chosen distance bands as lines or arcs radiating from the selected zone.
  4. Allow sub-total from an OD pair to appear with roll over of mouse or mouse click on either the line or the zone at the end of the line.  

Contact [email protected] if you have further questions or would like to collaborate. 


  • Documentation and open source code for the this BETA version of the External Cost Calculator can be found HERE
  • Many thanks to Huajing Shi for volunteering her time and skills to develop this prototype tool. 
  • Additional background document from Kansas DOT is HERE