The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act is the result of countless hours of work by this Union on the Hill and in the halls of Congress. The INVEST in America Act reauthorizes funding set to expire Sept. 30, but more so, sets standards for safety, training, and transportation reform that have long been sought by the members of SMART Transportation Division including:
Yardmaster Hours of Service
a “Cross Border” fix.
Additionally, Amtrak would see its funding triple to $29 billion over the five-year period of the bill, allowing for expansion of national, state and regional routes and facility modernization. Funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program also would be increased to $7 billion to fund passenger and freight rail projects. Provisions for/or against the transportation of liquid natural gas (LNG) via rail tank cars, blocked railroad crossings, and excessive freight train length, among others, also have been included.
Our National Legislative Office has been hard at work in Washington, D.C., to convey our issues to both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House and Senate, and the provisions within this bill are the fruits of that labor.
Undoubtedly, House Democrats have heard our cries and have answered the call. By including our issues within the context of this bill, they have let America know that the only safe operation of a Class I freight train is with a two-person crew; that our bus drivers and operators have the right to a safe work environment; and that the public should be shielded from the risks that rail carriers will take in the name of greed.
But make no mistake, this bill still has a long road to travel and a lot of heavy-handed opposition standing before it in the Republican-controlled Senate. We will need all hands on deck to protect the provisions we have all fought so hard for to survive that journey.
I am asking you to please watch this bill as it moves through the legislative process and see who and what hurdles it faces. I’m asking you to please pay attention to the party affiliations of the individuals as the yeas and nays are registered when the bill is voted upon. And I am asking you to listen to the rhetoric and testimony that will affect its final appearance. Once the dust has settled, I will call on you to please support those who support you and your family’s well-being, and I firmly believe that picture will be crystal clear.
There are only two parties at the table. The Democrats wrote it into the bill, only the Republicans will take it out.
President — Transportation Division
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Ranking Member Michael Capuano (D-MA) sent a letter signed by 27 bipartisan members of Congress to Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Elaine Chao expressing opposition to a petition filed by Kansas City Southern Railway (KCSR) requesting a waiver of critical federal safety and inspection requirements on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
This petition is the latest in a series of actions taken by KCSR to allow Mexican workers, who are not subject to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations regarding pre-employment screening and random drug and alcohol testing, to operate trains in the United States— moving U.S. rail jobs to Mexico.
“Freight railroads have long sought the ability to allow Mexican crews to operate trains in the United States. We oppose any groundwork that the FRA might be laying toward that effort… We strongly urge you to deny the May 31 petition and to rescind the process of allowing Mexican rail crews to operate within the United States,” the members wrote.
The letter was signed by DeFazio, Capuano, as well as Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), William Keating (D-MA), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Seth Moulton (D-MA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Richard M. Nolan (D-MN), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Andre Carson (D-IN), Peter Welch (D-VT), Michael Doyle (D-PA), David P. Joyce (R-OH), Don Young (R-AK), and Gene Green (D-TX).
As the most senior member from Illinois on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the representative of a district that is home to more miles of train tracks than any other – in addition to the fact that I live less than a mile from a line that carries about 150 trains a day (some carrying Bakken oil) – I am concerned by the recent number of railroad accidents.
This has spurred me to take an even greater role in finding solutions that will keep our communities safe.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Feb. 12 unanimously approved bipartisan legislation that improves the infrastructure, reduces costs, creates greater accountability and transparency, leverages private sector resources, and accelerates project delivery for Amtrak and the nation’s passenger rail transportation system.
The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, or PRRIA (H.R. 749), was introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); T&I Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).
“We thank the Chairman Shuster for his leadership on moving this legislation forward and support passage of the bill in the full House. We still have concerns that the bill does not provide Amtrak with the funding levels it needs to make needed repairs and upgrades to an aging system. That being said, the introduction and markup of this legislation is an important first step in bringing long-term stability and investment to Amtrak,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch.
“This is a good reform bill that firmly moves passenger rail towards greater transparency and accountability, and forces Amtrak to operate like a true business,” Shuster said.
“In every region of the country, passenger rail investments boost local economies and create thousands of family-wage construction, engineering, and manufacturing jobs. This bill isn’t perfect – but it was a bipartisan effort that ultimately provides critical investments and system wide improvements to increase capacity and make our railways safer,” said DeFazio.
“Passage of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act is an investment in our infrastructure that will make Amtrak operate more like a business – better responding to the needs of its customers and focusing on efficiency, transparency, and cost-saving,” Denham said. “I’m proud of the bipartisan unanimous support we’ve garnered for this bill and look forward to seeing PRRIA move to the House floor.”
“Making investments in passenger rail service not only creates economic benefits and employment opportunities, it also enhances the overall experience for passengers and improves safety,” said Capuano. “This legislation may not represent the level of funding I think is necessary, but most rail supporters agree that in today’s political climate it is the most that advocates can expect.”
Passenger rail presents one of the best transportation alternatives for relieving congestion on some of the nation’s most crowded highways and in our busy airspace. However, the rail system and Amtrak – the country’s intercity passenger rail provider – must be reformed and improved. For years, Amtrak has operated under unrealistic fiscal expectations and without a sufficient level of transparency. Profits from Amtrak’s most profitable route – the Northeast Corridor (NEC) – currently are not invested back into the corridor. And although significant ridership increases are occurring on Amtrak’s state-supported routes, its inconsistent financial structure and “black box” accounting system hamper states’ ability to help manage the routes and understand what exactly it is they’re paying Amtrak for.
In addition, rail infrastructure projects are unnecessarily delayed by unwieldy review processes that cost time and money, and current law that limits the ability to partner with the private sector holds back the development of the system.
During today’s legislation markup, the Committee also approved 12 General Services Administration Capital Investment and Leasing Program resolutions that will result in $111 million in taxpayer savings, and the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Views and Estimates of the Committee.
A bill that would cut Amtrak’s authorization for new construction spending by 40 percent was unanimously approved Wednesday by the House Transportation Committee.
The measure, which was passed on a voice vote with little debate, would reduce Amtrak’s authorized spending level for new construction from approximately $1.3 billion per year under the last Amtrak funding measure to about $770 million annually beginning next year.
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, issued the following statement Sept. 17 about the consideration of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 (PRRIA) by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:
“Today’s approval by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 is welcome news and represents important progress for both Amtrak and its almost 20,000 employees. This is not a perfect bill: we have specifically called on Congress to provide Amtrak the resources it needs to meet growing demand and to fund improvements and upgrades to an aging system. Still, this legislation is a bipartisan compromise, which we urged the committee to pass today. It rejects efforts made by some lawmakers to demonize Amtrak and undercut public support for passenger rail. We have gone from cheap political stunts that accomplish nothing to serious, thoughtful legislating. I want to commend Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Rahall, Subcommittee Chair Denham and Ranking Member Brown for their cooperative approach and work on this legislation. We look forward to continuing efforts to provide Amtrak with the tools it needs to make our passenger rail network a driver of economic expansion and a creator of good, middle-class jobs.”
Going to bat for Amtrak and its dedicated work force, UTU Alternate Legislative Director John Risch Jan. 27 outlined for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reasons why an intercity national rail passenger system is essential for Americans and worthy of continued federal funding.
The T&I field hearing was held in New York City’s historic Grand Central Terminal, with T&I Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in charge. Among those participating with Risch were Amtrak President Joe Boardman and Transportation Communications Union President Bob Scardelletti.
Mica advocated increased private-sector investment in Amtrak’s 437-mile Northeast Corridor, which operates between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Amtrak Acela trains now provide the highest speed rail in America over the Northeast Corridor (a maximum of 150 mph), but Boardman is pushing for a federally backed effort to implement true high-speed rail on the corridor, with trains capable of speeds up to 220 mph.
Said Mica: “Amtrak’s current plan to bring high speed rail to the Northeast Corridor would require $117 billion, and would not be completed until the year 2040. This slow-speed schedule for bringing true high-speed rail service to the Northeast Corridor will never allow President Obama to meet his goal announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that, ‘Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percet of Americans access to high-speed rail.'”
Boardman countered that “Amtrak was created by Congress precisely because the privately owned railroads could no longer sustain the vital public service of intercity passenger rail. No other operator or company is prepared to mobilize to take over the operation of the Northeast Corridor,” Boardman said. “Nor are they funded to cover the long-term capital and operating costs.
“It is critical for the Northeast Corridor to remain a public asset for the generations of Americans that are depending on our collective leadership to secure their future,” Boardman said. “It is about connecting the major metropolitan communities of the Northeast, and also connecting the Northeast to the rest of the United States.
“As a result of Amtrak’s stewardship and improvement of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure, train speeds have increased from 90 mph to 150 mph, America’s only high-speed rail service was introduced, and additional capacity was created to support significantly expanded commuter rail operations,” Boardman said.
Risch, representing the UTU, made the following points:
The government has put nearly 70 times more money into highways and aviation than into railroads.
The high cost of fuel, along with traffic and airport congestion, is drawing travelers back to trains for commuting and travel between cities as much as 500 miles apart.
A Pew Research poll found that the number of Americans who enjoy driving fell by 10 percentage points over a recent 15 year period — and highway traffic congestion, rather than higher fuel prices — was the reason.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials predicts that by 2020, some 90 percent of urban Interstate highways will be at or exceeding capacity.
Philadelphia officials estimate 50 additional flights daily would be needed to handle Amtrak passengers arriving and departing from that city.
Federal transportation officials estimate that without Amtrak service into Manhattan, 20 additional highway lanes, 10 new tunnels under the Hudson River and hundreds of acres of new more parking would be required.
Civil engineers estimate that two railroad tracks have the capacity to carry as many people each hour as 16 lanes of highway; and 300 miles of railroad use less land than a single commercial airport.
Although Amtrak collects substantial revenue from the fare box, it competes against heavily subsidized highways and commercial aviation, leaving Amtrak insufficient dollars to purchase urgently needed new rolling stock and locomotives, improve facilities and increase service availability.
Railroads require less land than new highways and airports, they are less expensive to construct, they are more fuel efficient than highway or air transport, they are environmentally preferable to all competing forms of motorized transportation, and they are notably safer than highway travel.
The Department of Transportation’s inspector general said in congressional testimony in 2005:
“Long-distance trains carry only a small number of end-to-end riders. Of the 3.9 million long-distance riders in fiscal year 2004, only 527,000 rode the entire length of the route … three million riders traveled along portions of the route.
“While eliminating long-distance service [a perennial money loser for Amtrak] may seem appealing from a federal budgetary standpoint, especially with the large deficits, it ignores the mobility needs of rural areas of the country and the benefits passenger rail provides.”