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CHAPTER 3 Guidelines for Preliminary Evaluation of Alternatives This chapter outlines a series of three phases involved in moving from a preliminary assessment of potential feasibility to a detailed benefit/cost analysis of rail freight solutions. It then provides details for new analysts on how to complete a five-step initial screening process. This approach also forms a foundation for more complex analysis using other analytical models and tools described later. 3.1 The Three Phase Approach Evaluating Potential Projects and Programs While the guide is intended to work for different types of projects, an underlying set of three phases applies to essentially all analysis and decision-making processes. These phases are shown in Exhibit 3-1 and explained in the text that follows. Phase 1 Initial Screening. In general, public agencies are looking for particular rail proj- ects or programs that can help to relieve highway congestion. As such, there is a need for guid- ance in identifying the types of situations where rail might help; expected benefits associated with congestion relief; and the specific types of projects or programs that might be appropriate given local conditions. These assessments are part of the first phase of the analysis, which focuses on determining whether there is a reasonable chance that the costs of rail projects or programs can be justified in terms of their contribution to congestion relief. This phase involves carrying out five steps to (1) screen for relevancy of rail freight solutions, (2) gauge the magni- tude of the road congestion problem, (3) characterize the local pattern of freight shipping, (4) characterize available rail resources, and (5) use "sketch planning" approaches to assess the potential viability (benefit and cost) of available options. Phase 2 Detailed Analysis. Only if there seems to be potential for a particular project or pro- gram, should an agency proceed to Phase 2 for a more detailed analysis of the proposed options. The logical place to begin is by looking at specific rail investment options and estimating how they could affect cost or any of the service factors that influence total logistics costs. The next step is to use a logistics cost or mode-split model to determine whether service improvements, if obtained, would be likely to affect road/rail choices and, if so, to estimate how many trucks might be diverted to rail. Given the potential diversion, it would then be possible to estimate the effects on highway performance using various highway models. The changes in highway performance can then be compared to the costs associated with the rail initiatives to see if further considera- tion is warranted. Thus, Phase 2 makes use of (1) rail cost or performance analysis, (2) logistics cost or mode-split analysis, (3) highway performance analysis, and (4) economic and financial evaluation. G-20