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As technology continues to enable communicators to shape and send messages faster and more prodigiously (checked your “spam” filter lately?), the messages can get muddied up in the process. Words can border on meaningless, and some dangle more precariously on the precipice than others. Among the words that are particularly susceptible to being relegated to the “nebulous” bin: “communication,” “coordination” and “cooperation.” In short: It’s never enough to write or say anything; it’s about walking the talk (as a phrase, that’s definitely a teeterer ... but I digress). From what we’ve seen, though, Dallas-Fort Worth-area transportation planners have etched their commitment to those three “C” words in concrete — or, rather, steel rail. Their aim: execute a truly regional plan that calls for building 250 passenger-rail miles during the next two decades, as Associate Editor Angela Cotey reports in this month’s cover story.
Now, coming together in the name of a greater transportation good might not seem to be that daunting a task, considering the stakeholders — Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, Trinity Railway Express and the Denton County Transportation Authority — live their interconnectedness daily. But the agencies, along with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, are to be lauded for committing their pledge to paper. Honoring it might not be so easy.
The agencies’ to-do list includes coordinating project development, services, fares and vehicle technology. They’ll also need to come up with funding solutions. Ultimately, the stakeholders will need to be diligent about not letting those three C’s — the words themselves, as well as the commitments they represent — dangle in the DFW Metroplex.
On April 30, The House Judiciary Committee passed the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1650), which aims to eliminate “antiquated railroad antitrust exemptions enjoyed, unfairly, by freight railroads,” according to a press release issued by U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the bill‘s author.
If passed by the House, H.R. 1650 would permit the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to review railroad mergers under antitrust law, and eliminate antitrust exemptions for mergers, acquisitions, collective rate-making and coordination among railroads. The bill — which has “wide support from utilities, agricultural groups, chemical companies, the cement and steel industries, paper and forestry companies, and consumer groups,” according to Baldwin — also would allow state attorneys general and private parties to sue for treble damages, and to sue to halt “anti-competitive” conduct.
In a succinctly worded statement of its own, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said the bill, if enacted, would create a “dual regulatory system” for the U.S. rail industry and “retroactively undo” agreements, decisions and rulings currently in effect.
“This legislation will severely hamper the ability of the nation’s railroad industry to expand, and to deliver the goods and products our economy depends on,” added AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger. “It will force more freight off the railroad and onto the highway, dramatically increasing pollution and traffic congestion.”
In a statement accompanying AAR’s, the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) also expressed concerns about the bill. The union, which represents 46,000 rail workers, concurred with AAR’s contention that H.R. 1650 calls for “dual and possibly conflicting oversight” of railroads, which could cause “unwanted problems” for TCU-
A companion bill (S. 772) that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year awaits full Senate consideration. Meanwhile, rail proponents continue to lobby Congress to pass legislation that would help expand rail capacity — the Freight Rail Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Act (S. 1125/H.R. 2116) and the Short Line Railroad Investment Act of 2007 (S. 881/H.R. 1584). They’re also working to convince Congress to reject any and all
“re-regulatory” measures the rail lobby insists would limit railroads’ ability to invest in infrastructure — namely, The Railroad Competition and Service Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 953/H.R. 2125), as well as the antitrust measures.
Are these antitrust salvos a precursor to a rhetoric-filled summer on the role rail can and/or should play as policy makers stumble toward addressing the country’s enormous infrastructure needs? Do they represent an early-early-early conversation starter to an at least marginally constructive dialogue on what it might take to develop a coherent national transportation policy ... or simply contribute to the uncertainty that continues to characterize this nascent phase of the Railroad Renaissance?
It’s gonna be an interesting summer.