AAR says the INVEST in America Act does not meet freight railroad’s needs

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · June 29, 2020

While the House of Representatives recently passed the proposed five-year, $494 billion Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act by a 35-25 margin, with the bill serving as a key component of the five-year, $760 billion outline, entitled “Moving Forward Framework,” which was released in January, it is fair to say language within the bill was not well-received by the freight railroad sector.

That was the word from the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Railroads (AAR).

AAR said that this legislation is replete with what it called numerous harmful provisions that would have a negative effect on railroads for years to come, hindering its ability to ability to adapt and serve customers and the economy.

“The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee continued down the unfortunate path of divisive policy rather than choosing common sense, pragmatic solutions to fund the nation’s public infrastructure,” AAR said in a statement. “Freight railroads are extremely disappointed in the deeply partisan, backward-looking rail title of the bill. If enacted, this legislation would undermine the ongoing modernization of the rail industry through outdated operational restrictions and capacity constraints, weakening the industry’s ability to serve its customers and the economy. This country needs proven, bipartisan solutions for infrastructure, and we will continue to work in earnest toward that goal.”

Among its chief objections to the INVEST in America Act cited by the AAR were:

the effective prohibition of the safe movement of LNG by rail is unnecessary as the Department of Transportation already has an ongoing rulemaking and has completed a real-world tank car test, in addition to additional research on the transportation of the LNG by rail that is also being undertaken pursuant to the FY 2020 Appropriation bill;

Private Right of Action: With the ongoing standards and metrics rulemaking wrapping up at the Department of Transportation, the legally enforceable contracts already in existence, and the two other options for legal recourse, this provision is unnecessary at this time;

Two-Crew Mandate (Section 9509): This anti-technology provision would prevent any freight railroad staffing modernization in perpetuity, a process that has historically been done through collective bargaining, without providing any safety benefit;

Effective Prohibition on Certain Crew Operations (Section 9510): The effective prohibition on the limited ability of certain Mexican trains crews to continue to operate safely in the U.S. will decrease safety and security of operations, reduce network fluidity, lead to increased blocked crossings in Laredo, Texas, and could negatively impact U.S. jobs;

Yardmaster Hours of Service: Given that a yardmaster is already required to abide by all hours-of-service laws when engaged in an activity that could impact the safe operation of a train, this provision is unnecessary; and

10-Minute Blocked Crossing Standard (Section 9553): Each of the nation’s 200,000 grade crossings are different, so the one-size-fits-all solution proposed will lead to unintended consequences, including network congestion and reductions in service

“Current policies have helped railroads continue to deliver for their employees and customers during this pandemic,” said AAR. “Now is not the time to retreat from this framework, much less impose partisan policy riders or unnecessary operational requirements…Now more than ever, Congress must come together in a bipartisan fashion to do better to improve America’s infrastructure. Oppose the INVEST in America Act.”

In an interview, AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies explained that this bill, in the AAR’s opinion, represents a missed opportunity.

“Right now, there is a widespread appreciation for the public infrastructure investment needs that this country has, whether it is highways, mass transit, wastewater, broadband, and other types of infrastructure,” he said. “And it certainly should be an issue that everybody can rally around. But, unfortunately, the path that was chosen by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was part of a highly divisive partisan process that included a number of highly objectionable policy provisions in the rail titles specifically.”

Jefferies noted that there is some irony there, in that freight railroads invest private capital back into their networks, with around $25 billion invested into their networks, noting that railroads are not seeking funding through legislation or other things in a federal surface transportation reauthorization.

“We need a fully functioning transportation infrastructure network in this country, so certainly we are supportive of appropriately funded and financed highway programs, for example,” he said. “But the path that Democratic leadership that the House Committee took unfortunately strayed from the focus on funding, which had been our mantra. We have a number of concerns about the bill’s provisions, whether they be operating provisions, the number of individuals physically located in the cabinet of a locomotive, restrictions on cross-border traffic, and prohibitions on certain commodities like LNG. It is a whole host of bad ideas, on our opinion, and these are certainly not provisions that are going to help speed along the consideration and passage of what should be important legislation that most folks can get behind. That is where we find ourselves now…and we will work to make it something we can support at the end of the day.”

June 29, 2020

Article Topics AAR · All Topics