CD247: BIF: The Growth of US Railroads

CD247: BIF: The Growth of US Railroads

Feb 13, 2022

The infrastructure law provides the most significant investment in passenger rail in U.S. history, but substantial hurdles – including a powerful cartel – stand firmly in the way of a real national network. In this episode, learn the ways the infrastructure law paves the way for a better future for passenger rail along with the significant obstacles that it failed to address.

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Background Sources

Recommended Congressional Dish YouTube Video

What is the World Trade System?

Contributors to Supply Chain Issues

Matthew Jinoo Buck. February 4, 2022. “How America’s Supply Chains Got Railroaded.” The American Prospect.

“Cartel.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2022.

“Energy Group Joins Shippers Alleging Price Fixing in Rail Transport.” January 6, 2020. The Houston Chronicle.

Testimony of Dennis R. Pierce. Passenger and Freight Rail: The Current Status of the Rail Network and the Track Ahead. October 21, 2020. 116th Cong.

U.S. Internal Revenue Service. December 31, 2019. “IRS issues standard mileage rates for 2020.”

Dangers of Monster Trains and Rail Profiteering

Aaron Gordon. Mar 22, 2021. “‘It’s Going to End Up Like Boeing’: How Freight Rail Is Courting Catastrophe.” Vice.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Dec 29, 2020. “Accident Report: Collision of Union Pacific Railroad Train MGRCY04 with a Stationary Train, Granite Canyon, Wyoming, October 4, 2018” [NTSB/RAR-20/05 / PB2020-101016.]

Marybeth Luczak. Nov 30, 2020. “Transport Canada Updates Rail Employee Fatigue Rules.” Railway Age.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. May 30, 2019. “Rail Safety: Freight Trains Are Getting Longer, and Additional Information Is Needed to Assess Their Impact” [GAO-19-443.]

Christina M. Rudin-Brown, Sarah Harris, and Ari Rosberg. May 2019. “How shift scheduling practices contribute to fatigue amongst freight rail operating employees: Findings from Canadian accident investigations.” Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Jessica Murphy. Jan 19, 2018. “Lac-Megantic: The runaway train that destroyed a town.” BBC.

Eric M. Johnson. Dec 6, 2017. “Growing length of U.S. freight trains in federal crosshairs after crashes: GAO.” Reuters.

Cumberland Times-News. Aug 12, 2017. “Last of Hyndman’s evacuated residents return home.” The Tribune Democrat.

Jeffrey Alderton. Aug 5, 2017. “Propane fire out at Hyndman train crash site, residents await news of when they can return.” The Tribune Democrat.

Jeffrey Alderton. Aug 3, 2017. “Train derailment destroys Bedford County home, forces evacuation.” The Tribune Democrat.

New Jersey Department of Health. Revised June 2011. “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Sodium Chlorate.”

Stephen Joiner. Feb 11, 2010 “Is Bigger Better? ‘Monster’ Trains vs Freight Trains.” Popular Mechanics.

Lobbying and Corruption

“CSX Corp: Recipients.” 2020. Open Secrets.

CSX Corporation Lobbying Report. 2020. Senate.gov.

“Union Pacific Corp: Summary.” 2020. Open Secrets.

“Union Pacific Corp: Members Invested.” 2018. Open Secrets.

Union Pacific Corporation Lobbying Report. 2020. Senate.gov.

What you really pay for TV

Gavin Bridge. Oct 27, 2020. “The True Cost to Consumers of Pay TV’s Top Channels.” Variety.

Laws

H.R.3684 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Sponsor: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Status: Became Public Law No. 117-58

Law Outline

DIVISION A: SURFACE TRANSPORTATION

TITLE I – FEDERAL-AID HIGHWAYS

Subtitle A – Authorizations and Programs

Sec. 11101: Authorization of appropriations

  • Authorizes appropriations for Federal-Aid for highways at between $52 billion and $56 billion per year through fiscal year 2026 (over $273 billion total).
  • Authorizes $300 million for “charging and fueling infrastructure grants” for 2022, which increases by $100 million per year (maxing out at $700 million in 2026)
  • Authorizes between $25 million and $30 million per year for “community resilience and evacuation route grants” on top of equal amounts for “at risk coastal infrastructure grants”
  • Authorizes a total of $6.53 billion (from two funds) for the bridge investment program

Sec. 11102: Obligation ceiling

  • Caps the annual total funding from all laws (with many exceptions) that can be spent on Federal highway programs.
    • Total through 2026: $300.3 billion

Sec. 11109: Surface transportation block grant program:

  • Allows money from the surface transportation block grant program to be used for “planning and construction” of projects that “facilitate intermodel connections between emerging transportation technologies”, specifically naming the hyperloop

Sec. 11508: Requirements for Transportation Projects Carried Out Through Public Private Partnerships

  • For projects that cost $100 million or more, before entering into a contract with a private company, the government partner has to conduct a “value for money analysis” of the partnership.
  • Three years after a project is opened to traffic, the government partner has to review the compliance of the private company and either certify their compliance or report to the Secretary of Transportation the details of the violation. The certifications or violation notifications must be publicly available “in a form that does not disclose any proprietary or confidential business information.”

DIVISION B – SURFACE TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENT ACT OF 2021

TITLE I – MULTIMODAL AND FREIGHT TRANSPORTATION

Subtitle A – Multimodal Freight Policy

Sec. 21101: Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy

  • Restructures/eliminates offices at the Department of Transportation to create an Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy
    • The person in charge will be appointed by the President and has to be confirmed by the Senate
  • Authorizes “such sums as are necessary”

Subtitle B – Multimodal Investment

Sec. 21201: National infrastructure project assistance

  • Authorizes $2 billion per year until 2026 ($10 billion total) on projects that cost at least $100 million that include highways, bridges, freight rail, passenger rail, and public transportation projects.
  • The Federal government will pay a maximum of 80% of the project costs.

Sec. 21202: Local and regional project assistance

  • Authorizes $1.5 billion per year until 2026 ($7.5 billion) (which will expire after 3 years) for grants for local transportation projects in amounts between $1 million and $25 million for projects that include highway, bridge, public transportation, passenger and freight rail, port infrastructure, surface transportation at airports, and more.

Sec. 21203: National culvert removal, replacement, and restoration grant program

  • Authorizes $800 million per year through 2026 ($4 billion) for grants for projects that replace, remove, or repair culverts (water channels) that improve or restore passages for fish.

Subtitle C – Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Reforms

TITLE II – RAIL

Subtitle A – Authorization of Appropriations

Sec. 22101: Grants to Amtrak

  • Authorizes appropriations for Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor at between $1.1 billion and $1.57 billion per year through 2026 ($6.57 billion total).
  • Authorizes appropriations for Amtrak in the National Network at between $2.2 billion and $3 billion per year through 2026 ($12.65 billion total).

Sec. 22103: Consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvements grants

  • Authorizes $1 billion per year through 2026 ($5 billion total) for rail infrastructure safety improvement grants

Sec. 22104: Railroad crossing elimination program

  • Authorizes $500 million per year through 2016 ($2.5 billion total) for the elimination of railroad crossings

Sec. 22106: Federal-State partnership for intercity passenger rail grants

  • Authorizes $1.5 billion per year through 2026 ($7.5 billion total) for grants to states to expand intercity passenger rail grants

Subtitle B – Amtrak Reforms

Sec. 22201: Amtrak findings, mission, and goals

  • Changes the goal of cooperation between Amtrak, governments, & other rail carriers from “to achieve a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money” to “in order to meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States” and expands the service areas beyond “urban” locations.
  • Changes the goals of Amtrak to include…
    • “Improving its contracts with rail carriers over whose tracks Amtrak operates.”
    • “Offering competitive fares”
    • “Increasing revenue from the transportation of mail and express”
  • “Encourages” Amtrak to make agreement with private companies that will generate additional revenue

Sec. 22203: Station agents

  • Requires that at least one Amtrak ticket agent works at each station, unless there is a commuter rail agent who has the authority to sell Amtrak tickets

Sec. 22208: Passenger Experience Enhancement

  • Removes the requirement that Amtrak’s food and beverage service financially break even in order to be offered on its trains
  • Creates a working group to make recommendations about how to improve the onboard food and beverage service
    • The report must be complete within one year of the working group’s formation
    • After the report is complete, Amtrak must create a plan to implementing the working group’s recommendations and/or tell Congress in writing why they will not implement the recommendations
    • The plan can not include Amtrak employee layoffs

Sec . 22209: Amtrak smoking policy

  • Requires Amtrak to prohibit smoking – including electronic cigarettes – on all Amtrak trains

Sec. 22210: Protecting Amtrak routes through rural communities

  • Prohibits Amtrak from cutting or reducing service to a rail route if they receive adequate Federal funding for that route

Sec. 22213: Creating Quality Jobs

  • Amtrak will not be allowed to privatize the jobs previously performed by laid off union workers.

Sec. 22214: Amtrak Daily Long Distance Study

  • Authorizes $15 million for an Amtrak study on bringing back long distance rail routes that were discontinued.

Subtitle C – Intercity Passenger Rail Policy

Sec. 22304: Restoration and Enhancement Grants

  • Extends the amount of time the government will pay the operating costs of Amtrak or “any rail carrier” partnered with Amtrak or a government agency that provides passenger rail service from 3 years to 6 years, and pays higher percentages of the the costs.

Sec. 22305: Railroad crossing elimination program

  • Creates a program to eliminate highway-rail crossings where vehicles are frequently stopped by trains
  • Authorizes the construction on tunnels and bridges
  • Requires the government agency in charge of the project to “obtain the necessary approvals from any impacted rail carriers or real property owners before proceeding with the construction of a project”
  • Each grant will be for at least $1 million each
  • The Federal government will pay no more than 80% of the project’s cost

Sec. 22306: Interstate rail compacts

  • Authorizes up to 10 grants per year valued at a maximum of $1 million each to plan and promote new Amtrak routes
  • The grant recipient will have to match the grant by at least 50% of the eligible expenses

Sec. 22308: Corridor identification and development program

  • The Secretary of Transportation will create a program for public entities to plan for expanded intercity passenger rail corridors (which are routes that are less than 750 miles), operated by Amtrak or private companies.
  • When developing plans for corridors, the Secretary has to “consult” with “host railroads for the proposed corridor”

Subtitle D – Rail Safety

Sec. 22404: Blocked Crossing Portal

  • The Administration of the Federal Railroad Administration would establish a “3 year blocked crossing portal” which would collect information about blocked crossing by trains from the public and first responders and provide every person submitting the complaint the contact information of the “relevant railroad” and would “encourage” them to complain to them too.
  • Information collected would NOT be allowed to be used for any regulatory or enforcement purposes
  • Reports to Congress will be created using the information collected

Sec. 22406: Emergency Lighting

  • The Secretary of Transportation will have to issue a rule requiring that all carriers that transport human passengers have an emergency lighting system that turns on when there is a power failure.

Sec. 22408: Completion of Hours of Service and Fatigue Studies

  • Requires the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration to start pilot programs that were supposed to be conducted no later than 2010, which will test railroad employee scheduling rules designed to reduce employee fatigue. They will test…
    • Assigning employees to shifts with 10 hours advance notice
    • For employees subject to being on-call, having some shifts when those employees are not subject to being on-call.
  • If the pilot programs have not begun by around March of 2023, a report will have to be submitted to Congress explaining the challenges, including “efforts to recruit participant railroads”

Sec. 22409: Positive Train Control Study

  • The Comptroller General will conduct a study to determine the annual operation and maintenance costs for positive train control.

Sec. 22418: Civil Penalty Enforcement Authority

  • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to provide notice and an opportunity for a hearing to “persons” who violate regulations requiring railroads to report information about railroad crossings.
  • Eliminates the minimum $500 fine for violating the regulations
  • Allows the Attorney General to take the railroad to court to collect the penalty but prohibits the amount of the civil penalty from being reviewed by the courts.

Sec. 22423: High-Speed Train Noise Emissions

  • Allows, but does not require, the Secretary of Transportation to create regulations governing the noise levels of trains that exceed 160 mph.

Sec. 22425: Requirements for railroad freight cars placed into service in the United States

  • Effective 3 years after the regulations are complete (maximum 5 years after this becomes law), freight cars will be prohibited from operating within the United States if it has sensitive technology originating from or if more than 15% of it is manufactured in…
  • The Secretary of Transportation can assess fines between $100,000 and $250,000 per freight car. A company that has been found in violation 3 times can be kicked out of the United States transportation system until they are in compliance and have paid all their fines in full.
  • These rules will apply regardless of what was agreed to in the USMCA trade agreement.

Sec. 22427: Controlled substances testing for mechanical employees

  • 180 days after this becomes law, all railroad mechanics will be subject to drug testing, which can be conducted at random.

Bills

H.R.1748 – Safe Freight Act of 2019

Sponsor: Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Status: Referred to Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials 03/14/2019


Hearings

Leveraging IIJA: Plans for Expanding Intercity Passenger Rail

House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
December 9, 2021

During the hearing, witnesses discussed plans for expanding intercity passenger rail in their states, regions, and networks, and how the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was recently signed into law, will support these efforts.

Witnesses:

  • Stephen Gardner, President, Amtrak
  • David Kim, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency
  • Kevin Corbett, President and CEO of New Jersey Transit, Co-Chair, Northeast Corridor Commission, On behalf of Northeast Corridor Commission
  • Julie White, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation, North Carolina Department of Transportation, Commission Chair, Southeast Corridor Commission, On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Southeast Corridor Commission
  • Ms. Donna DeMartino, Managing Director, Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency
  • Knox Ross, Mississippi Commission and Chair of the Southern Rail Commission

Clips

8:52 – 9:12 Rep. Rick Crawford: Finally, any potential expansion of the Amtrak system must include the full input of the freight railroads on capacity and track sharing issues. The ongoing supply chain crisis only further emphasizes the value of freight railroads and efficiently moving goods across the nation. The important work the freight railroads cannot be obstructed.

16:49 – 17:10 Rep. Peter DeFazio The law is pretty clear: preference over freight transportation except in an emergency. Intercity and commuter rail passenger transportation provided for Amtrak has preference over freight transportation and using a rail line junction crossing unless the board orders otherwise under this subsection. Well, obviously that has not been observed.

22:05 – 22:24 Stephen Gardner: With the $66 billion provided to the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak we and our partners can finally have the chance to renew, improve or replace antiquated assets like the century old bridges and tunnels in the Northeast, inaccessible stations around the nation, and our vintage trains.

23:44 – 24:11 Stephen Gardner: Additionally, we’ll continue to work collaboratively with our partners where they see value in working with other parties to deliver parts of their service and with new railroad entities that aim to develop or deliver their own service. We simply ask that key railroad laws like the Railway Labor Act and railway retirement apply to new entrants, that the federal government gets equity and accountability for investments it makes in private systems, and that any new services create connections with Amtrak’s national network

1:25:00 – 1:25:37 Stephen Gardner: We’ve been working very closely with a variety of host railroads on opportunities to expand, notably Burlington Northern Santa Fe and our work to expand the Heartland Flyer service between Texas and Oklahoma and potentially extend that North to Wichita, Newton, in Colorado along the front range also with BNSF, to look at opportunities there. With Canadian Pacific we’ve been having really good conversations about launching a new service between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago. Similarly, I think there’s opportunities for that Baton Rouge to New Orleans service that Mr. Ross mentioned.

1:54:24 – 1:55:10 Rep. Chuy Garcia: You’ve each had different experiences with freight railroads as the host railroad for your respective services. What can Congress do to help you as you discuss expanding and improving passenger rail service with your freight railroad? You’ll have about 15 seconds each. Knox Ross: Congressman, thank you. I think it’s enforcing the will of Congress and the law that set up Amtrak in the beginning is, as the Chairman talked about, in the beginning, that people have a preference over freight. Now we understand that we all have to work together to do that. But we think there are many ways that Amtrak and other other hosts can work together with the fright to get this done, but the law has to be enforced.

1:55:14 – 1:55:30 Julie White: I would say that the money in the IIJA is going to be really important as we work, for example, on the S Line it is an FRA grant that enables us to acquire that line from CSX and enables us to grow freight rail on it at the same time as passenger.

1:58:05 – 1:58:23 Rep. Tim Burchett: Also understand that Amtrak is planning to either expand or build new rail corridors in 26 states across the country over the next 15 years and I was wondering: what makes you think Amtrak will turn a profit in any of those communities?

1:58:43 – 1:59:29 Stephen Gardner: But I would be clear here that our expectation is that these corridors do require support from states and the federal government, that they produce real value and support a lot of important transportation needs. But we measure those not necessarily by the profit of the farebox, so to speak, even though Amtrak has the highest farebox recovery of any system in the United States by far in terms of rail systems, we believe that Amtrak mission is to create mobility, mobility that creates value. We do that with as little public funding as we can, but the current services do require support investment and I think that’s fair. All transportation modes require investment.

2:00:12 – 2:00:24 Rep. Tim Burchett: Since you mentioned that you needed more funding down the line, don’t you think it’d be better to make your current service corridors more profit — or just profitable before you build new ones in other parts of the country?

When Unlimited Potential Meets Limited Resources: The Benefits and Challenges of High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies

House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
May 6, 2021

This hearing featured twelve witnesses from a range of perspectives, exploring the opportunities and limitations associated with high-speed rail and emerging technologies, including regulatory oversight, technology readiness, project costs, and available federal resources.

Witnesses:

  • John Porcari, Former Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Transportation
  • Rachel Smith, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
  • Phillip Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Danielle Eckert, International Representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, Judge in Waller County, TX
  • Andy Kunz, President and CEO of the US High Speed Rail Association
  • Carlos Aguilar, President and CEO of Texas Central High Speed Rail
  • William Flynn, CEO of Amtrak
  • Josh Giegel, CEO and Co-Founder of Virgin Hyperloop
  • Andres de Leon, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
  • Michal Reininger, CEO of Brightline Trains
  • Wayne Rogers, Chairman and CEO of Northeast Maglev

Clips

8:37 – 8:48 Rep. Rick Crawford: Rail is also considered one of the most fuel efficient ways to move freight. On average freight rail can move one ton of freight over 470 miles on one gallon of fuel.

18:05 – 18:46 Rep. Peter DeFazio: You know we have put aggregate with the essentially post World War Two, mostly the Eisenhower program, $2 trillion — trillion — into highways, invested by the federal government, a lot of money. But post World War Two $777 billion into aviation, airports, runways, air traffic control etc. And, and we have put about $90 billion total into rail.

22:45 – 23:25 John Porcari: As I evaluated ways to increase capacity in the Baltimore-New York City corridor, these were my choices: I could add air capacity between BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and New York with 90% federal funding for runway and taxiway improvements, I could add highway capacity on I-95 to New York with 80% federal funding, or add passenger rail capacity with zero federal funding for that 215 mile segment. A passenger rail trip makes far more sense than driving or flying, yet passenger rail capacity was the least likely alternative to be selected. So if you wonder why we have the unbalanced transportation system we have today, follow the money.

23:26 – 23:54 John Porcari: It’s an extraordinary statement of state priorities that the California High Speed Rail Authority’s 2020 Business Plan anticipates 85% of its funding from state sources and only 15% federal funding for this project of national and regional significance. This is a remarkable state financial commitment and a clear declaration of the state’s project priorities. Yet there’s no ongoing sustained federal financial partner for this multi year program of projects.

23:54 – 24:28 John Porcari: To match the people carrying capacity of phase one of the high speed rail system, California would need to invest $122 to $199 billion towards building almost 4200 highway lane miles, the equivalent of a new six lane highway and the construction of 91 new airport gates and two new runways. The San Francisco-Los Angeles air loop is already the ninth busiest in the world, and the busiest air route in America. Doesn’t it make sense to prioritize this finite and expensive airport capacity for trans continental and international flights?

24:28 – 24:40 John Porcari: For California the 120 to 209 billion of required highway and airport capacity as an alternative to high speed rail is double the 69 to 99 billion cost estimate for phase one of the high speed rail system.

25:05 – 25:18 John Porcari: Providing real transportation choices at the local and state level requires the establishment of a Passenger Rail Trust Fund on par with our Highway Trust Fund and Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

48:00 – 48:23 Trey Duhon: Texas Central promised this project was privately financed, and everything they’ve done today, including the EIS was based on that. So we say let it live or die in the free market and invest our tax dollars in more equitable transportation solutions. We should not have to pay for another train to nowhere while having our communities destroyed by the very tax dollars that we work hard to contribute.

49:48 – 50:42 Andy Kunz: High Speed Rail can unlock numerous ridership opportunities. Essential workers like teachers, police and firemen in the high price Silicon Valley could find affordable housing options with a short train ride to Merced or Fresno in California’s Central Valley. Residents of Eugene, Oregon could access jobs in Portland’s tech sector or booming recreational industry with a 35 minute commute. A Houston salesperson could prepare for an important client meeting in Dallas with dedicated Wi Fi and ample workspace while gliding past the notorious congestion on I-45. A college student in Atlanta could make it home for Thanksgiving in Charlotte while picking up grandma along the way in Greenville, South Carolina. International tourists visiting Disney World in Orlando could extend their vacation with a day trip to the Gulf beaches of the Greater Tampa Bay area.

51:41 – 54:58 Andy Kunz: High Speed Rail has an unmatched track record of safety. Japan, with the world’s first high speed rail network, has carried millions of people over 50 years without a single fatality, in comparison as many as 40,000 Americans are killed every year in auto accidents on our highways.

52:22 – 52:45 Andy Kunz: China has invested over a trillion dollars in high speed rail, allowing them to build a world class 22,000 mile network in 14 years. Not taking a pause, China plans to construct another 21,000 miles of track over the next nine years. Modern infrastructure like this fuels China’s explosive economic growth, making it challenging for us to compete with them in the 21st century.

52:46 – 53:10 Andy Kunz: On the other side of the globe, the United Kingdom is currently doubling their rail network with $120 billion investment. France has invested over $160 billion in constructing their system. Spain’s 2000 mile High Speed Rail Network is the largest in Europe, costing more than 175 billion. These are considerable investments by nations that are similar in size to Texas.

1:08:00 – 1:09:00 Rep. Peter DeFazio: Are you aware of any high speed rail project in the world that isn’t government subsidized? I know, Virgin in, you know, in Great Britain says, well, we make money. Yeah, you make money. You don’t have to maintain the rail, the government does that, all you do is put a train set on it and run it. John Porcari: Yeah, that’s a really important point, Mr. Chairman, virtually every one that I’m aware of in the world has had a very big public investment in the infrastructure itself, the operation by a private operator can be very profitable. I would point out that that is no different, conceptually from our airways system, for example, where federal taxpayer investments make possible the operations of our airlines, which in turn are profitable and no different than our very profitable trucking industry in the US, which is enabled by the public infrastructure investment of the highway system itself.

1:09:46 – 1:10:37 Philip Washington: The potential is very, very good to make that connection with the private railroad. And actually that is the plan. And we are working with that, that private railroad right now to do that. And that connection with the help of some twin bore tunnel will allow train speeds to be at anywhere from 180 to 200 miles an hour, getting from that high desert corridor to Los Angeles. And so it’s a it’s a huge, huge effort. It links up with high speed rail from the north as well, with the link up coming into Union Station as well. So I think the potential to link up both of these are very, very great. And we’re working with both entities.

1:11:31 – 1:12:13 Philip Washington: Well one of our ideas very quickly is right now we have as you know, Mr. Chairman, assembly plants, assembly plants all over the country what we are proposing is a soup to nuts, all included manufacturing outfit in this country that manufactures trains from the ground up, forging steel, all of those things. So we have proposed an industrial park with suppliers on site as well to actually build again from the ground up, rail car passenger rail car vehicles and locomotives. It is the return of manufacturing to this country as we see it.

1:21:16 – 1:21:50 John Porcari: We have 111 year old tunnel in New York, we have a B&P tunnel in Baltimore, that Civil War era. Those are not the biggest obstacles. It is more a question of will. What we want to do as a country in infrastructure, we do, and we’ve never made rail, really the priority that that I think it needs to be. And we’ve never provided meaningful choices for the states to select rail and build a multi year rail program because we don’t have the funding part of it.

1:21:55 – 1:22:19 John Porcari: Our passenger rail system in the US is moving from a survival mode to a growth mode. And I think that’s a very healthy thing for the country. Whether you’re talking about our cross country service, one of the coastal corridors or the Midwest service, all of that is really important. In just the same way we built the interstates, city pairs aggregating into a national system, we can really do that with the passenger rail system if we have the will.

1:27:13 – 1:27:41 Rep. Michelle Steel: My constituents are already taxed enough, with California state and local taxes and skyrocketing gas prices making it unaffordable to live. I just came back from Texas, their gas price was $2 something and we are paying over $4 in California. We must preserve our local economy by lowering taxes not raising them. And we must not continue throwing tax dollars into a high speed money pit.

1:30:53 – 1:31:11 Trey Duhon: The folks in Waller county the folks that I know, a family of four is not going to pay $1,000 To ride a train between Houston and Dallas, when they can get there on a $50 tank of gas an hour and a half later. It’s just not going to happen. So it’s not a mass transit solution, at least not for this corridor.

1:48:56 – 1:49:25 Andy Kunz: The other big thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the the cost of people’s time and waste sitting stuck in traffic or stuck in airports. It’s estimated to be several 100 billion dollars a year. And then as a business person, time is money. So if all your people are taking all day to get anywhere your entire company is less competitive, especially against nations that actually have these efficient systems, and then they can out compete us

2:03:52 – 2:04:13 Seth Moulton: And I would just add, you know, we build high speed rail, no one’s gonna force you to take it. You have that freedom of choice that Americans don’t have today and yet travelers all around the world have. I don’t understand why travelers in China should have so much more freedom than we do today. In America, high speed railway would rapidly rectify that

3:01:09 – 3:01:27 Josh Giegel: In 2014 I co-founded this company in a garage when Hyperloop was just an idea on a whiteboard. By late 2016 We began construction of our first full system test set, dev loop, north of Las Vegas. To date we’ve completed over 500 tests of our system.

3:01:38 – 3:01:48 Josh Giegel: Today we have approximately 300 employees and are the leading Hyperloop company in the world and the only company, the only company to have had passengers travel safely in a Hyperloop.

3:01:48 – 3:02:33 Josh Giegel: Hyperloop is a high speed surface transportation system. Travel occurs within a low pressure enclosure equivalent to 200,000 feet above sea level, in a vehicle pressurized to normal atmospheric conditions, much like a commercial aircraft. This, along with our proprietary magnetic levitation engine, allows us to reach and maintain airline speeds with significantly less energy than other modes of transportation. Not only is Hyperloop fast, it’s a high capacity mass transit system capable of comfortably moving people and goods at 670 miles per hour with 50,000 passengers per hour per direction, on demand and direct to your destination, meaning no stops along the way.

3:02:54 – 3:02:58 Josh Giegel: We achieve all this on a fully electric system with no direct emissions.

3:11:34 – 3:11:53 Mike Reininger: Since our 2018 launch in Florida, we operate the only private high speed system in the US, showcasing the potential of American high speed passenger rail. We carried more than a million passengers in our first full year and learned a lot that is worth sharing from the investment of over $4 billion over the last 10 years.

3:12:45 – 3:12:57 Mike Reininger: We use existing road alignments and infrastructure corridors to leverage previous investments, reduce environmental impacts, lower costs, and speed execution as a basis for profitability.

3:13:00 – 3:13:28 Mike Reininger: In 2022, we will complete the extension into the Orlando International Airport, making our total route 235 miles, linking four of the largest cities in America’s third largest state. 400 million annual trips occur between these cities today, 95% of them by car. By upgrading a freight railway first built in the 1890s and building along an Express Highway, we leveraged 130 years of previous investment to support our 21st century service.

3:13:31 – 3:13:51 Mike Reininger: Brightline West will connect Las Vegas to Los Angeles, where today 50 million annual trips and over 100 daily flights occur. Traveling on trains capable of speeds of 200 miles an hour using the I-15 corridor, but cutting the drive time in half, Brightline West’s better option expects to serve 11 million annual riders.

3:14:56 – 3:15:08 Mike Reininger: Consider allowing private entities to become eligible parties for FRA grant programs by partnering with currently eligible applicants as a simple way to stretch direct government investment.

3:29:39 – 3:29:54 Rep. Rick Crawford: Amtrak announced plans to expand its routes including to several small cities where there doesn’t appear to be enough demand or population to warrant those new lines. Can you guarantee that those new routes will be self sustaining and turn a profit or will they lose money?

3:38:42 – 3:38:55 Bill Flynn: 125 miles an hour on existing track infrastructure is high speed. The newest Acelas we ordered will have a top speed of 186 miles an hour.

3:36:46 – 3:37:05 Rep. Seth Moulton: What is the top speed of the Acela service? Bill Flynn: The Acela service in the southern network, Washington to New York, top speeds 135 miles an hour, and then in New York to Boston top speed of 150 miles an hour across different segments of the track.

4:11:57 – 4:12:30 Bill Flynn: When we think about NEPA and the other permitting processes that take place, and then ultimately into construction, on many major projects, we’re talking a decade or more. So without the visibility and predictability and the certainty of funding, these projects are all affected, they ultimately become more high cost, and they take longer than they should. So if I were to recommend one policy action, creating a trust fund, or trust fund like structure, for intercity passenger rail would be key.

Full Steam Ahead for Rail: Why Rail is More Relevant Than Ever for Economic and Environmental Progress

House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
March 10, 2021

The hearing explored the importance of rail to the U.S. economy and as a tool to mitigate climate change.

Witnesses:

  • Shannon Valentine, Secretary of Transportation, The Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Caren Kraska, President/Chairman, Arkansas & Missouri Railroad
  • Greg Regan, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Tom Williams, Group Vice President for Consumer Products, BNSF Railway

Clips

18:17 – 18:50 Shannon Valentine: One of the worst rail bottlenecks, mentioned by Chairman DeFazio, along the east coast is at the Potomac River between Virginia and DC and it’s called the long bridge which is owned by CSX. The bridge carries on passenger, commuter, and freight rail, nearly 80 trains a day and is at 98% capacity during peak periods. Due to these constraints, Virginia has been unable to expand passenger rail service, even though demand prior to the pandemic was reaching record highs.

18:50 – 19:42 Shannon Valentine: Virginia has been engaged in corridor planning studies, one of which was the I-95 corridor, which as you all know, is heavily congested. Even today as we emerge from this pandemic, traffic has returned to 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Through this study, we learned that adding just one lane in each direction for 50 miles would cost $12.5 billion. While the cost was staggering, the most sobering part of the analysis was that by the time that construction was complete, in 10 years, the corridor would be just as congested as it is today. That finding is what led Virginia to a mode that could provide the capacity at a third of the cost.

20:34 – 20:43 Shannon Valentine: According to APTA rail travel emits up to 83% fewer greenhouse gases than driving and up to 73% fewer than flying.

20:58 – 21:22 Shannon Valentine: Benefits can also be measured by increased access to jobs and improving the quality of life. The new service plan includes late night and weekend service because many essential jobs are not nine to five Monday through Friday. That is why we work to add trains leaving Washington in the late evening and on weekends, matching train schedules to the reality of our economy.

52:23 – 53:06* Rep. Peter DeFazio: I am concerned particularly when we have some railroads running trains as long as three miles. And they want to go to a single crew for a three mile long train. I asked the the former head of the FRA under Trump if the train broke down in Albany, Oregon and it’s blocking every crossing through the city means no police, no fire, no ambulance, how long it’s going to take the engineer to walk three miles from the front of the train to, say, the second car from the rear which is having a brake problem. And he said, Well, I don’t know an hour. So you know there’s some real concerns here that we have to pursue.

1:23:25 – 1:24:15 Shannon Valentine: When we first launched the intercity passenger rail, Virginia sponsored passenger rail, back in 2009, it really started with a pilot with $17 million for three years from Lynchburg, Virginia into DC into the new Northeast Corridor. And, and I had to make sure that we had 51,000 riders and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to sustain it. And in that first year, we had 125,000 passengers. It always exceeded expectations for ridership and profitability. And today, that rail service which we now extend over to Roanoke, and we’re working to get it to Blacksburg Christiansburg is really one of our most profitable rail services. In fact, probably in the country. It doesn’t even need a subsidy because they’re able to generate that kind of ridership.

2:10:21 – 2:12:11 Shannon Valentine: Our project, in my mind, is really the first step in creating a southeast high speed corridor, we have to build the bridge. In order to expand access, we need to be able to begin separating passenger and freight. And even before that is able to occur, building signings and creating the ability to move. We took a lot of lessons from a study called the DC to RDA again, it’s the first part of that high speed southeast corridor. For us, it was recommended that we take an incremental approach rather than having a large 100 billion dollar project we’re doing in increments. And so this is a $3.7 billion which is still going to help us over 10 years create hourly service between Richmond and DC. It was recommended that we use existing infrastructure and right of way so in our negotiations with CSX, we are acquiring 386 miles of right of way and 223 miles of track. We are also purchasing as part of this an S line. It’s abandoned. It goes down into Ridgeway, North Carolina from Petersburg, Virginia, just south of Richmond. Because it’s abandoned, we have a lot of opportunity for development for future phases or even higher speed rail. And we actually included part of Buckingham branch, it’s an East West freight corridor that we would like to upgrade and protect for, for East West connection. All of these were incremental steps using existing right of way and tracks and achieving higher speeds where it was achievable.

Examining the Surface Transportation Board’s Role in Ensuring a Robust Passenger Rail System

House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials

November 18, 2020

Witnesses:

  • Ann D. Begeman, Chairman, Surface Transportation Board
  • Martin J. Oberman, Vice Chairman, Surface Transportation Board
  • Romayne C. Brown, Chair of the Board of Directors, Metra
  • Stephen Gardner, Senior Executive Vice President, Amtrak
  • Ian Jefferies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads
  • Randal O’Toole, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
  • Paul Skoutelas, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Public Transportation Association

Clips

27:31 – 27:59 Daniel Lipinski: Unlike Amtrak, Metra and other commuter railroads do not have a statutory federal preference prioritizing commuter trains over freight trains. Additionally, commuter railroads generally do not have standing to bring cases before the STB. Therefore, commuter railroads have very limited leverage when it comes to trying to expand their service on freight rail lines and ensuring that freight railroads Do not delay commuter trains.

35:42 – 36:27 Rep. Peter DeFazio: In fact, Congress included provisions to fix Amtrak on time performance in 2008. That is when PRIA added a provisions directing the FRA and Amtrak to work to develop on time performance metric standards to be used as a basis for an STB investigation. Unfortunately, those benefits haven’t been realized. It’s been 12 years since PRIA was passed. If our eyes metric and standards for on time performance were published this last Monday 12 years later, for the second time, and after this long and unacceptable delay, I look forward to seeing an improvement on Amtrak’s performance both in in my state and nationwide.

38:01 – 38:32 Rep. Peter DeFazio: Worldwide, I’m not aware of any railroads, passenger railroads, that make money, although Virgin claims they do in England because they don’t have to maintain the tracks. Pretty easy to make money if all you have to do is put a train set on it, run it back and forth. That’s not the major expense. So, you know, to say that we shouldn’t be subsidizing commuter or we shouldn’t be subsidizing Amtrak is, you know, is just saying you don’t want to run trains. Because everywhere else in the world they’re subsidized.

43:45 – 44:30 Ann Begeman: Most intercity passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak, which is statutorily excluded from many of the board’s regulatory requirements applicable to freight carriers. However, with the enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIA) which both Chairman Lipinski and Chairman De Fazio has have mentioned in their opening comments, as well as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015. FAST Act, the board assumed additional Amtrak oversight responsibilities, including the authority to conduct investigations under certain circumstances, and when appropriate, to award relief and identify reasonable measures to improve performance on passenger rail routes.

1:02:24 – 1:03:07 Stephen Gardner: Congress created Amtrak in 1970 to take on a job that today’s freight railroads no longer wanted. In exchange for contracts assumption of these private railroads common carrier obligation for passengers and the associated operating losses for passenger service, the freights agreed to allow Amtrak to operate wherever and whenever it wanted over their lines, to provide Amtrak trains with dispatching preference over freight, and to empower what is now the STB to ensure Amtrak’s access to the rail network. It’s been nearly 50 years since the freight railroads and agreed eagerly to this bargain. And yet today, many of our hosts railroads fall short and fulfilling some of these key obligations

1:03:28 – 1:04:38 Stephen Gardner: Since our founding, Congress has had to clarify and amend the law to try and ensure host compliance. For example, by 1973, the freights had begun delaying Amtrak train so severely that Congress enshrined this promise of Amtrak preference into federal law, and in 2008, delays had gotten so bad that Congress created a new process to set Amtrak on time performance and provided the STB with the authority to investigate poor OTP. But for several reasons, these efforts haven’t remedied the problems. For Amtrak and your constituents that has meant millions of delayed passengers and years of impediment as we try to add trains or start new routes to keep up with changing markets and demand. As the AAR are made clear and its litigation opposing the PRIA metrics and standards rule, many hosts see supporting our operation not as their obligation to the public, but as competition for the use of their infrastructure. But Amtrak wasn’t created to relieve host railroads of their requirements to support passenger trains. It was created to help them reduce financial losses and ensure that passenger trains could still serve the country

1:04:38 – 1:05:15 Stephen Gardner: We need this committee’s help to restore your original deal with the freights. For example you can provide us as you have in the moving forward Act, a way to enforce our existing rights of preference. You can make real Amtrak statutory ability to start new routes and add additional trains without arbitrary barriers. You can create an office of passenger rail within the STB and require them to use their investigative powers to pursue significant instances of for OTP. You can require more efficient STB processes to grant Amtrak access to hosts and fairly set any compensation and capital investment requirements.

1:06:19 – 1:07:57 Stephen Gardner: A rarely heralded fact is that the U.S. has the largest rail network in the world. And yet we use so little of it for intercity passenger rail service. A fundamental reason for this is our inability to gain quick, reasonable access to the network and receive reliable service that we are owed under law. This has effectively blocked our growth and left much of our nation underserved. City pairs like Los Angeles and Phoenix, or Atlanta to Nashville could clearly benefit from Amtrak service. Existing rail lines already connect them. Shouldn’t Amtrak be serving these and many other similar corridors nationwide?

1:12:34 – 1:12:57 Randall O’Toole: Last year, the average American traveled more than 15,000 miles by automobile, more than 2000 Miles, road several 100 miles on buses, walked more than 100 Miles, rode 100 miles by urban rail, transit and bicycled 26 miles. Meanwhile, Amtrak carried the average American just 19 Miles.

1:13:35 – 1:13:55 Randall O’Toole: In 1970, the railroads’ main problem was not money losing passenger trains, but over regulation by the federal and state governments. Regulation or not, passenger trains are unable to compete against airlines and automobiles. A 1958 Interstate Commerce Commission report concluded that there was no way to make passenger trains profitable.

1:14:52 – 1:15:20 Randall O’Toole: The 1970 collapse of Penn Central shook the industry. Congress should have responded by eliminating the over regulation that was stifling the railroads. Instead, it created Amtrak with the expectation that it would be a for profit corporation and that taking passenger trains off the railroads hands would save them from bankruptcy 50 years and more than $50 billion in operating subsidies later, we know that Amtrak isn’t and never will be profitable.

1:15:40 – 1:16:10 Randall O’Toole: When Amtrak was created, average rail fares per passenger mile were two thirds of average airfares. Thanks to airline deregulation since then, inflation adjusted air fares have fallen by 60%. Even as Amtrak fares per passenger mile have doubled. Average Amtrak fares exceeded airfares by 1990 despite huge operating subsidies, or perhaps as has well predicted, because those subsidies encouraged inefficiencies.

1:16:50 – 1:17:15 Randall O’Toole: Today thanks to more efficient operations, rail routes that once saw only a handful of trains per day support 60, 70 or 80 or more freight trains a day. This sometimes leaves little room for Amtrak. Displacing a money making freight train with a money losing passenger train is especially unfair considering that so few people use a passenger trains, while so many rely on freight.

1:17:15 – 1:17:25 Randall O’Toole: Passenger trains are pretty, but they’re an obsolete form of transportation. Efforts to give passenger trains preference over freight we’ll harm more people than it will help.

2:42:40 – 2:43:50 Stephen Gardner: We think that the poor on time performance that many of our routes have is a significant impediment to ridership and revenue growth. It’s quite apparent, many of our passengers, particularly on our long distance network, that serves Dunsmuir, for instance, you know their routes frequently experience significant delays, the number one cause of those delays are freight train interference. This is delays encountered, that Amtrak encounters when freight trains are run in front of us or otherwise dispatching decisions are made that prioritize the freight trains in front of Amtrak. And the reduction in reliability is clearly a problem for passengers with many hour delays. Often our whole long distance network is operating at 50% or less on time performance if you look at over the many past years. Even right now, through this period of COVID, where freight traffic has been down and we’re only at 60% over the last 12 months on time performance for the entire long distance network.

2:52:44 – 2:53:23 Stephen Gardner: The difference between the US system and most of the international examples is that the infrastructure is publicly owned, publicly owned and developed in all of these nations, the nations that Mr. O’Toole mentioned, there is a rail infrastructure entity and they’re developing it for both passenger and freight in some of those locations are optimized for passenger service primarily, that’s for sure the case. China is a great example of a nation that’s investing for both as a massive freight system and an incredible amount of investment for passenger rail. And again, they see high speed as a means of dealing with their very significant population and efficient way.


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Music Presented in This Episode

Intro & Exit: Tired of Being Lied To by David Ippolito (found on Music Alley by mevio)

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