The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers announces support for California Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to authorize funding for the state’s high-speed rail program, utilizing $300 million of cap and trade revenue.
This investment includes upgrades to commuter and intercity rail systems that improve connectivity and modernize transportation between regions throughout the state. Without high-speed rail, California’s existing transportation network cannot meet the demands of the projected population growth of 20 million new residents in the coming decades. Studies find that adding more highways and airports to what already exists would cost up to three times as much as high-speed rail.
According to SMART General President Joseph Nigro, “California’s leadership in this effort will serve as a trailblazer for other states as the nation moves toward high-speed rail as a solution to solving present and future transportation challenges.”
SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, is one of North America’s most dynamic and diverse unions with 216,000 members. SMART’s members produce and provide the vital services that move products to market, passengers to their destinations and ensure the quality of the air we breathe. We are sheet metal workers, service technicians, bus operators, railroad engineers and conductors, sign workers, welders, production employees and more. With members in scores of different occupations, we advocate for fairness in the workplace, excellence at work and opportunity for all working families.
It may seem improbable, but the odds that faster trains are coming to the Northeast Corridor have jumped recently. That’s because beginning in 2015, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to finally permit modern European designs on tracks throughout the country, running side by side with heavy freight, at all times of day. This decision could cut the weight of U.S. passenger trains in half, meaning trains can go faster, accelerate more quickly, cause less wear on tracks, and get passengers to their destination in less time.
How much time? The decision by the FRA to finally shelve regulatory requirements from the 1920s means that lighter replacement train sets for the Acela could cut the trip from Boston to New York by 30 minutes (the trains can maneuver the curvy tracks of New England at higher speeds) and the faster acceleration and braking could shave 5 to 10 minutes off the trip from New York to Washington.
The Obama Administration yesterday released its budget request for fiscal year 2014 and the President has once again put forth a plan for transforming and expanding train service in the United States.
The president is requesting $40 billion in passenger rail investment over the next five years, allocating $6.6 billion to the Federal Rail Administration for fiscal 2014, with increasing amounts each subsequent year through 2019.
“A well-functioning transportation system is critical to America’s economic future. Whether it is by road, transit, air, rail, pipeline, or waterway, Americans rely on our transportation system to move people and goods safely, facilitate commerce, attract and retain businesses, and support jobs,” the administration said in the budget request.
The request for $40 billion over five will fund the development of high-speed rail and other passenger rail programs as part of an integrated national transportation strategy.
This system will provide 80 percent of Americans with convenient access to a passenger rail system, featuring high-speed service, within 25 years.
The proposal also benefits freight rail and significantly restructures Federal support for Amtrak, to increase transparency, accountability, and performance.
The request will be a boost for Amtrak, coming a day before the House Committee on Transportation holds a hearing on the railroad’s FY 2014 budget.
The hearing, Amtrak’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget: The Starting Point for Reauthorization [which will be streamed live], will address Amtrak’s funding needs, as well as the coming rail reauthorization (the current law will expire at the end of this September).
Amtrak announced April 9 it had set a new ridership record during the first half of this fiscal year, and will be looking to translate its steady increase in popularity into an increase its funding for badly needed equipment purchases and infrastructure upgrades.
Passage of a reauthorization bill this year is uncertain, but the appropriations committees will determine how much federal funding each program gets.
Secretary LaHood is scheduled to appear before the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee on April 16.
President Obama’s $6.6 billion request breaks down in the following ways:
• $2.7 billion for “Current Passenger Rail Service,” including $800 million for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, $300 million for state corridors, $675 million for the Northeast Corridor and $925 million for “national assets” (defined as positive train control for passenger rail, rail stations, and “backbone rail facilities).”
• $3.7 billion for “Rail Service Improvement Program.” The budget request defines goals for the program as “Creating or improving passenger corridors, mitigating congestion bottlenecks in the rail system, improving intermodal freight rail capacity and comprehensive future planning.”
President Obama has put forth similar proposals in the past, and the biggest obstacle to implementing the program remains identifying new sources of funding.
The Administration identifies the “peace dividend” — money saved from drawing down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — as a major source of funding. However, House Republicans have rejected this proposal in its previous iterations.
The Administration is proposing that rail funding become part of the Highway Trust Fund (it would be repurposed into a “Transportation Trust Fund”). This would eliminate Amtrak’s dependence on the annual appropriations cycle, moving it a grant structure similar to highways and transit.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, Californians for High Speed Rail, and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association are urging Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to support XpressWest’s creation of a Los Angeles to Las Vegas high-speed rail line.
XpressWest currently has loan application pending with the Federal Railroad Administration through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program.
Congress established the RRIF loan program in 1998 to help support development of the U.S. rail system. Under the RRIF program, the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees out of a $35 billion pool of revolving credit to help rail projects.
In a letter to LaHood, the four organizations cited the following factors in seeking his support:
•Los Angeles to Las Vegas is the second busiest end-point pair in the United States, trailing only Los Angeles to San Diego. The completion of XpressWest will be a critical step toward meeting the president’s goal of connecting 80 percent of the American public to modern intercity passenger trains within 25 years.
•XpressWest will provide a convenient, energy-efficient alternative to the heavily traveled Interstate-15, a congested and dangerous highway. Mid-desert traffic back-ups are fairly common. The initial 185-mile segment would have the capacity to divert more than 2 million annual automobile trips, saving an estimated 440,000 barrels of oil each year. The train would also provide a safer travel alternative: the Las Vegas to Los Angeles segment of Interstate 15 has been found to be one of the most dangerous highways in America, and a 2010 study found that 1,069 people died in 834 automobile accidents on the road over a 15 year period.
•It will help speed up and enhance the California high speed rail project with extensions to Palmdale (70 miles from Los Angeles; currently served by Metrolink commuter trains) where the two systems will seamlessly integrate, significantly increasing ridership on both systems, and increasing private sector interest in the California system to help fund further extensions.
•It will expand the market for American high-speed rail manufacturing.
•It is consistent with the desire of Americans for good train travel. This is reflected in the fact that Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the last 10 years. Moreover, as a recent Brookings Institution report noted, Amtrak ridership from 1997 to 2012 at 55 percent grew faster than domestic aviation ridership (20 percent), highway vehicle-miles traveled (16.5 percent), U.S. population (17 percent) and real gross domestic product (37 percent).
“XpressWest is well suited for this program. This project is ready to go today, having already gained environmental clearance and secured the needed rights-of-way. Private investors have already assembled $1.5 billion in funds to support the project.
“With leadership from the private sector, we can be confident the project will be delivered quickly and efficiently, and managed with strong business practices. Because the nation’s high-speed rail network will be created through public-private partnership, this project offers the ideal model starter project to help move the nation’s new rail program forward,” the organizations’ leadership said.
The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo:
In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama spoke about the importance of investing in our infrastructure as a path to create new jobs and lay a foundation for America’s economic success.
In the last three years, American businesses have added 6 million new jobs, including a half-million in manufacturing. But there’s more to be done. And while construction jobs are often the most visible, our investments can continue remaking America as a magnet for manufacturing.
The report found 122 suppliers in Ohio, 99 in Indiana, 49 in Michigan, 84 in Illinois, 73 in Wisconsin, 26 in Minnesota and seven in Iowa. The Midwest is not alone. Railway suppliers are located in 49 out of 50 states and employ 94,000 people.
Manufacturers like Cleveland Track Material in Ohio are benefiting from the $12 billion the U.S. DOT has invested in passenger rail over the last four years. Started by Vietnam Veteran Bill Willoughby in 1984 in an impoverished section of Cleveland, the company was one of 53 across 20 states that received an order from Maine’s Downeaster service expansion project. Last year, Cleveland Track invested over $5 million in new production equipment at their plant. The company employs 300 people in Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
Manufacturers are opening new plants in the United States. Recently, the state of California awarded the newly-opened Nippon Sharyo plant in Illinois with a contract to build 130 rail cars that will run on the state’s existing corridors.
Amtrak and California High Speed Rail Authority have answered our call to work together to explore a bundled procurement for the next generation of high-speed rail equipment – equipment designed to reach up to 220 mph. Combining orders will provide incentives to high-speed rail manufacturers to build factories domestically, creating new high-quality jobs and tremendous opportunities for suppliers.
Investments in freight rail will also mean new jobs at suppliers. Last week, the Association of American Railroads announced the industry would invest more than $24 billion this year in its network.
President Obama also recently signed into law the Shortline and Regional Railroad 45G Tax Credit. The Railway Tie Association estimates that when the 45G credit is in effect, between 500,000 and 1,500,000 additional railroad ties will be installed each year.
For the first time in more than a decade, America is adding new manufacturing jobs. Continued investment in our rail network will put Americans to work in factories today, and lead to economic expansion over the next generation.
High-speed rail has been given an energy-boosting vitamin B-12 shot by the California legislature and Amtrak for separate projects on the West and East Coasts.
In California, the legislature agreed to spend $6 billion to build the first 130-mile leg of a 520-mile high-speed line – with an estimated cost of some $68 billion — that eventually will connect Sacramento with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Gov. Jerry Brown, who has staked his political reputation on high-speed rail for California, is expected to sign the spending bill into law.
In Washingotn, D.C., Amtrak announced a formal vision for 220-mph travel along the entire Northeast Corridor.
This first 130-mile leg of California high-speed rail, in California’s Central Valley, will connect Madera with Bakersfield. Previously, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure as a down-payment on the projected $68 billion route, with the U.S. Department of Transportation providing $3.2 billion in federal grants. The funds voted by the state legislature will come from bond sales and be mated with already approved $3.2 billion in federal grants to total $5.8 billion for the Central Valley leg of the project.
The New York Times reported in November 2011:
“[While] for many Californians, struggling through a bleak era that has led some people to wonder if the state’s golden days are behind it, this project goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation.
“[Gov. Brown] has enthusiastically embraced the plan, no matter that at 73, he seems unlikely to be around for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that is projected to be more than 20 years away. ‘California’s high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, linking California’s population centers and avoiding the huge problems of massive airport and highway expansion,’ Mr. Brown said.”
President Obama has been the strongest proponent of high-speed rail advances in America, advocating a nationwide 17,000-mile network of high-speed and higher-speed trains that could provide 80 percent of the American population access to train travel by 2036.
Amtrak, meanwhile, unveiled its formal vision for 220-mile train travel – by 2040 – along the 438-mile Northeast Corridor linking Washington, D.C. with Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
The $151 billion improvement plan over the decades-long period of construction would require substantial federal and state financial support to assure – on “NextGen” named trains — 94 minute travel times between Washington, D.C., and New York and between New York and Boston. The Washington-New York trip current requires almost three-hours travel time and almost four hours between New York and Boston.
Some 40,000 new construction jobs annually, for 25 years, would result, says Amtrak.
Amtrak’s vision includes direct rail links to airports at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and White Plains, N.Y.
“The vision we will shape with the Northeastern states, Amtrak and all of our stakeholders will outlast the vagaries of politics, budgets and critics,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.
It seems like just yesterday, as UTU Illinois state legislative director and mayor of Riverdale, Ill., that I joined other mayors to successfully advocate for more frequent rail service from Chicago to downstate Illinois communities.
At the time, even that modest goal seemed daunting, as conventional wisdom said Americans would no longer ride trains.
Fast forward to 2012, where 30 million people are riding Amtrak each year — more than ever before.
The future looks even brighter.
How did it happen? My brothers and sisters at the UTU worked with mayors, business owners, university presidents and environmental groups across the nation to show elected officials at all levels of government how better train service would transform local economies, provide Americans with more transportation options and create new jobs.
Decades of advocacy are finally paying dividends, as we finally have a president in Barack Obama who understands that our economy is dependent on the quality of our transportation system. President Obama invested more than $10 billion in regional rail networks that will provide a much needed alternative to congested highways and airports as our nation grows by 100 million people over the next 40 years.
As FRA administrator, I have visited communities across the country as they begin construction projects. Some include:
* New England, where service will reach new communities in Maine this year.
* The Pacific Northwest, where new construction will lead to more frequent service between Seattle and Portland.
* The Midwest, where trips from Chicago to Detroit and St. Louis will be more than an hour shorter by 2014, and feature next-generation American-made trains.
* The Southeast, where new construction will lead to more frequent and reliable service between Charlotte and Raleigh.
* California, where construction is underway to add capacity to existing corridors, while the state breaks ground on its high-speed train system later this year.
The Obama administration also invested more than $3 billion to improve reliability and order new locomotives for the Northeast Corridor, while Northeast states begin planning for the next generation of the service.
In communities I visit, I meet leaders of both political parties who are excited to explain how their town will benefit from a project. As a former mayor, I relate. At the local level, transportation investments are not about politics – they are about creating new jobs, attracting new investment, and making the lives of our friends and neighbors better.
Now is the time for Congress to make the investments we need in passenger rail to create jobs today and provide America with the world-class transportation network we need in the 21st century.
(Prior to his April 2009 Senate confirmation as FRA administrator, Joe Szabo was UTU Illinois state legislative director. He is a fifth generation railroader.)
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – UTU Missouri State Legislative Director Ken Menges is halfway toward a goal of creating a public rail commission to study means of expanding and financing improved multi-modal passenger transportation in his state and throughout the Midwest, with an emphasis on creating a track network capable of supporting 150-mph rail passenger service.
In a show of bi-partisan support, the Missouri House of Representatives has voted 134-2 to create a 15-member commission to recommend best practices to “design, build, operate, maintain and finance an improved rail system for Missouri and the Midwest, including “specific recommendations for legislation, regulations, funding sources and way to integrate the improved rail system into existing and planned Amtrak expansions, airports and public transportation systems.”
The House bill is specific that the improved rail system be designed for 150-mph rail passenger service.
The focus now shifts to the state senate.
Menges said he has been working with representatives of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, as well as Missouri railroads and the state DOT, to gather bi-partisan legislative support.
In 2008, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure as a down-payment for a high-speed rail project linking the Sacramento (in northern California), the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles.
The projected $98 billion route subsequently won $3.3 billion in federal grants.
But with California in the midst of a severe budget shortfall, voter opinion has turned negative. A recent public opinion poll found that 64 percent of registered California voters (73 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats) would reject the project if given a second chance to vote on it — most citing the escalating costs and long-term completion date.
But don’t assume the California project – or, for that matter, other high-speed rail projects — are down for the count.
While the dramatic increase in cost has imposed sticker-shock on Californians, and while Congress has cut-off further federal funding for this and other high-speed rail projects, California Gov. Jerry Brown remains an ardent cheerleader, observing:
“California’s high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, linking California’s population centers and avoiding the huge problems of massive airport and highway expansion.”
The former chairman of the House Transportation & Infastructure Committee, Jim Oberstar, now a private citizen, but still quite active politically, told The Washington Post:
“The financial uncertainties facing California’s high-speed rail project should not be read as an indictment of such rail development in America.
“High-speed, inter-city passenger rail can be successful, even profitable — as proven in France. The French national passenger rail system, wrote a check for $299 million to the national government just before Christmas, and has returned $780 million to the government over the last five years.
“Massive congestion is choking our major metropolitan areas, costing Americans $110 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. We must invest in a passenger rail alternative. The longer we wait, the less livable our cities will become and the more expensive the alternatives will be. The French have proven that the concept can succeed. We should follow their lead and not give up on inter-city passenger rail.
Moreover, the The New York Times observed:
“[While] for many Californians, struggling through a bleak era that has led some people to wonder if the state’s golden days are behind it, this project goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation.”
The UTU’s National Legislative Office is among those educating members of Congress to the long-term benefits of high-speed rail investment. For example, the UTU is reminding lawmakers that that construction of America’s Interstate Highway system began slowly and had to overcome substantial initial opposition.
While legislation to begin construction of Interstate Highways was passed by Congress in 1956, it was the culmination of two-decades of effort – with President Roosevelt the catalyst, much as President Obama is seeking to be the catalyst for nationwide high-speed rail.
As one historian recounted, “The plan had to be sold and sold again,” culminating with President Eisenhower providing the final push – convincing Congress that a $50 billion investment ($421 billion in 2011 dollars) was absolutely essential to ensure American mobility in the future.
“Patience and persistence achieved the goal of building Interstate Highways,” says National Legislative Director James Stem. “Patience and persistence will achieve the 21st century goal of President Obama for a nationwide 17,000-mile network of high-speed and higher-speed trains to provide 80 percent of the American population access to train travel by 2036.
WASHINGTON – Just when federal funding for high-speed rail appeared dead as a rusted rail spike, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois exercised his clout and reopened the door – if only slightly.
On Sept. 20, the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee voted to zero-out all federal funds for high-speed rail. Coming on the heels of a similar House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee vote, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) – one of the most ardent congressional supporters of high-speed rail – declared that elimination of high-speed rail funding is “a casualty of the cuts mandated in the debt-limit deal.”
But when the entire Senate Appropriations Committee met Sept. 21, Durbin was successful in having the entire committee overrule the transportation subcommittee and, instead, approve $100 million for high-speed funding for fiscal year 2012.
True, the $100 million, while seeming a large sum, is relatively small given the hundreds of billions of dollars required to build a series of high-speed rail lines in America. Consider that President Obama, earlier in the year, had urged $8 billion for high-speed rail in FY 2012, on top of $10.1 billion previously approved by Congress – with $7 billion of that $10.1 billion already allocated to numerous high-speed rail proposals nationwide.
With the door for high-speed rail funding reopened, the battle now turns to the House and Senate floors, where more money might be appropriated when the final votes are cast for FY 2012 high-speed rail funding.
Amtrak funding also faces a tough battle in the House and Senate.
In the Senate, appropriators are recommending $544 million in Amtrak operating subsidies for FY 2012 ($18 million less than FY 2011 funding) plus $937 million toward capital spending and debt service (an increase of $15 million from the FY 2011 appropriation).
But In the House, appropriators are recommending considerably less for Amtrak in FY 2012 — $227 million for operating subsidies and $899 for capital and debt service.
Also awaiting further House action is a House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee recommendation to eliminate all federal funding for state-supported Amtrak service in FY 2012. No action on that anti-Amtrak initiative has surfaced in the Senate.
It is unlikely that the House and Senate will reach agreement on FY 2012 Amtrak funding prior to the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1. More likely is a continuing resolution that will extend FY 2011 funding levels into FY 2012 while lawmakers continue debating FY 2012 funding levels.
WASHINGTON — New jobs building and operating high-speed rail “are American jobs that can’t be shipped overseas and would be a Godsend in this economic downturn,” UTU Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch told a congressionally sponsored forum here Aug. 3.
“Railroad operating jobs are not just good paying jobs; they are great careers,” Risch told his audience, which included a bi-partisan group of lawmakers and their staff interested in advancing high-speed passenger railroading, as well as officials of the American High Speed Rail Alliance.
“Amtrak and its workforce should be the backbone for high-speed rail in America,” Risch said. “Amtrak, by law, is America’s national intercity rail passenger network and the nation’s only provider of high-speed rail with its Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor.”
Risch told the forum the UTU supports Amtrak’s Next Generation Plan for development of high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor, which would include speeds as fast as 220-mph and significantly reduced travel times.
“Amtrak’s plan would support 44,000 jobs annually over the 25-year construction period and some 120,000 permanent jobs,” Risch said.
“If we were instead to build more highways, we would have to build eight new lanes of Interstate between Washington, D.C., and Boston to accommodate the same number of travelers Amtrak will carry on the Northeast Corridor upon completion of the Next Generation Plan,” Risch said.
“Amtrak,” said Risch, “has extensive experience operating passenger trains in America, has long-standing relationships with the freight railroads and has a proven track-record partnering with state and local governments to provide passenger rail service,” Risch said.
“Most importantly, Amtrak employs the experienced conductors, engineers, on-board service workers, machinists, signalmen, train dispatchers, and others who know how to run a railroad,” Risch said. “These are the best trained passenger-rail workers in the nation, and Amtrak is the best choice to implement any high-speed rail program.”
WASHINGTON – The Republican leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will introduce legislation July 8 to slash Amtrak’s federal subsidy by 25 percent, prevent federal funds from being used to create additional rail passenger services unless they are high-speed projects, and cut federal transit funding by 30 percent.
Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) have previously made known their dislike for Amtrak and intention to destroy the national intercity rail passenger network through funding cuts and privatization of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
The senior Democrat on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, put the Mica/Shuster legislation in perspective: “The bill, as we have seen so far, cannot pass the [Democratic-controlled Senate].”
Opposition to the bill also is being voiced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has joined with the AFL-CIO to lobby against it. The UTU’s National Legislative Office already is working with members in the House and Senate against Amtrak and transit funding cuts.
Amtrak funding has previously and regularly been in the crosshairs of its detractors, and another tough fight is brewing. On Amtrak’s — and transit’s — side are tens of millions of Americans who continue to make clear to their elected congressional lawmakers that they want more, not less, rail passenger and transit service.
The proposed cuts for Amtrak and transit are contained in a six-year bill entitled, “The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU.” Senate Democratic leaders are pushing for a two-year bill that would be more generous toward Amtrak and transit – although at lower spending levels than sought by the Obama administration.
The House bill would also extend the deadline beyond 2015 for implementation of positive train control (PTC).
The bill also would remove a federal requirement that states use Highway Trust Fund revenue for non-highway transportation purposes, such as mass transit; but would allow states to make such decisions unilaterally.
There are, however, provisions in the House bill that have been sought by the UTU – and those provisions are expected to survive. They include:
Increasing a low-interest loan program for state transportation projects.
Encouraging states to create and capitalize state infrastructure banks to provide loans for transportation projects.
Improving transit options for the elderly and disabled.
Insulating motor carrier safety programs from any spending cuts.
Requiring federal regulators to keep unsafe buses off the road.
Improving access to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program; and making high-speed rail projects eligible for RRIF loans.
Strengthening the rail transit safety oversight program.
Establishing annual inspection programs for buses.
Requiring regulations to establish minimum training requirements for commercial drivers.