Panel Holds Hearing on Railroad and Hazardous Materials Transportation Programs
Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials today held a hearing on railroad and hazardous materials transportation programs in preparation for drafting a surface transportation reauthorization bill.
Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, as prepared for delivery:
Statement of the Honorable Corrine Brown, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
“Railroad and Hazardous Materials Transportation Programs: Reforms and Improvements to Reduce Regulatory Burdens”
April 7, 2011
I want to thank Chairman Shuster for holding today’s hearing allowing all the stakeholders to express their views on the upcoming bill to reauthorize the nation’s surface transportation program. I believe wholeheartedly that authorizing a six-year surface transportation bill, with the appropriate funding levels and policy, will give the economy just the type of kick-start it needs.
We are experiencing a renaissance in passenger rail in this country, and if we want to keep up with our international competitors, we need to make a significant investment in passenger and high-speed rail. I’ve advocated for and support a dedicated source of funding for rail and would encourage the committee to include a minimum of $50 billion dollars for high-speed and intercity passenger rail over the life of the bill. Compared to the funding levels in the overall bill and the money being spent in other countries on rail, $50 billion is a drop in the bucket.
Although we have some very small thinking Governors, support for high-speed rail is still high. The FRA received more than 90 applications from 24 states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak for the $2.4 billion that Florida just gave up. The requests total nearly $10 billion dollars.
I also believe that this reauthorization offers us an opportunity to improve the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program. RRIF can help railroads, shippers, and States meet those rail infrastructure investment needs, but I don’t think we are taking full advantage of the program.
I meet with railroads and others that tell me – time and again – how difficult the application process is to navigate; how time consuming it is; how expensive and cumbersome it is, how they can’t use studies from other DOT agencies; and, in the end, many of them tell me: It’s just not worth it! Well, we need to do better.
The draft Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 made significant changes to the RRIF program, which I proposed. The bill authorized the Secretary to: (1) reduce the interest to be paid on direct loans provided to railroads, State and local governments, and eligible entities for the sole purpose of installing positive train control (PTC) systems; (2) allow applicants to use private insurance, including bond insurance, in lieu of a credit risk premium; and (3) allow applicants to pay the credit risk premium over the life of the loan. The draft bill also authorized appropriations to assist the Secretary in reducing the interest rates for loans used for installing PTC. I hope these will be included in the new bill.
I want to take this time to also express my strong support for Amtrak. Congress has micro-managed and financially starved them for most of their existence. We created Amtrak because the freight railroads couldn't make a profit on passenger service yet we continue to hammer Amtrak for not making enough money. The Bush Administration even went so far as proposing in its FY2006 budget to force Amtrak into bankruptcy. I know that Chairman Mica wants to revisit some issues in the Amtrak bill that was signed into law in 2008. I hope that whatever is proposed that we can work together as we did during negotiations on that 2008 bill and that we support Amtrak; not look for ways to destroy it.
Our Subcommittee has also made major strides in improving safety in the rail industry. We’ve improved hours-of-service and training standards, improved the working and living conditions of rail employees, and implemented several critical NTSB standards, including Positive Train Control, which will save both lives and money. All the stakeholders worked very hard to implement these rules in a fair manner and I hope that we don’t use the surface reauthorization bill to undue any of this hard work.
Another issue that is critically important to the Gulf states, and really the entire nation, is restoration of the Sunset Limited route. This route serves my home state of Florida and the other states along the Gulf Coast, but sadly has been shut down since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area. The people of these states have been denied the ability to travel by rail, and more importantly, they have lost the ability to be moved from harms way during a catastrophe. If Amtrak is unwilling to operate service on this line, this may very well be a good place for a private company to provide service on this route.
Lastly, I want to encourage the Committee to include language that ensures that minority, veteran, and women-owned businesses are getting their fair share of the transportation pie. Federal transportation spending has historically served as a crucial means of empowering socially disadvantaged businesses. Thanks to the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan group of Members on the House Transportation Committee, including Chairman Bud Shuster, every major transportation bill since 1983 has mandated minimum levels of participation by minority and/or women owned companies.
Unfortunately, because the Federal Railroad Administration has not historically been a significant grant-making agency, it is not currently authorized to require opportunities for disadvantaged businesses. I strongly encourage the Committee to take the steps necessary to provide the FRA with this authority and to develop other programs such as small business set asides, subcontracting, goal setting, and other avenues that ensure that minority and disadvantaged businesses have fair access to federally funded contracts.
During the field hearing process, we’ve heard from witnesses who want to limit the scope of the bill to just building roads. That would be a mistake. We need a comprehensive bill that improves our transportation system for everyone who uses it, whether you’re driving, walking, or taking public transit.
The stimulus bill has proven that transportation infrastructure funding provides a benefit to the community and puts people back to work. For every billion dollars in infrastructure funding, 32,000 good-paying, permanent jobs are created. And that is exactly what our country needs.
With that, I want to welcome our panelists, and I look forward to hearing their testimony.