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October 2012

Part 1 : Rail industry stakeholders weigh in on 2012 election issues

Part 2 : Transportation infrastructure investment in an era of partisanship

Part 3 : Is federal funding for Amtrak at stake?

Part 4 : To what extent is rail transportation investment at risk?

Part 5 : Freight-rail regulation: Will re-reg resurface?

Part 6 : Truck size and weight will continue to be an issue for railroads

Part 7 Online Only: Election 2012: Rail experts sound off on funding, retirement, rules, policies and taxes

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Rail industry stakeholders weigh in on 2012 election issues

The raging rhetoric of bumper-sticker politics. Soundbite clips on YouTube. "I'm so-and-so and I approve this message." Targeted Tweets. Endless email solicitations for campaign donations. Fact checkers and self-anointed keepers of any number of flames. Yep, it's election season. So: What's at stake — or, at least, potentially at stake — this election cycle for rail industry stakeholders? Other transportation stakeholders? What are the key 2012 election issues for the rail realm? Would transportation infrastructure issues rate higher on the urgency meter under an Obama administration? A Romney administration? A Democratic Congress? A Republican Congress? The status quo in the form of a House-Senate split?

For context and perspective, the Progressive Railroading staff picked the brains of a cross-section of rail and transportation industry stakeholders. In sum, they told us:

  • In this chronically uncertain economic era, transportation infrastructure funding is always at risk. In this election, the Amtrak subsidy, transit funding in general, TIGER grants and other mechanisms arguably are all in the crosshairs to varying degrees.
  • On the freight front, some rail advocates say efforts to alter the regulatory framework aren't in the cards, regardless of who wins on Nov. 6. But others aren't convinced.
  • Truck size and weight will continue to be an issue for the rails no matter what happens on Election Day.

And there are plenty of other big-picture issues that could evolve at various paces and in varying directions, depending on who's in office next year. Coloring them all is a politically polarized climate in D.C., where rhetoric rules, "compromise" is an alien concept and transportation topics often do not see the light of legislative day.

"We've reached a very unfortunate point in American government where we're not talking to each other, we're talking past each other," says Bruce Carlton, president and CEO of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL). "We're not talking, we're not negotiating. We're not making decisions. We're kicking them down the road."

Whether the next president and next Congress will continue to drop-kick decisions remains to be seen. Near term, the punting probably will continue. But longer term, many of the stakeholders we talked with expressed a strong desire to remain in the glass-is-half-full camp — regardless of what happens on Nov. 6.

"I would like to believe that, at some point, some of the rhetoric would get toned down and people would think seriously about what investments the country needs to make to move the economy forward," says Chuck Baker, a partner with rail lobbying firm Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell L.L.C. who also serves as president of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC). "And I would like to believe that transportation would make the list."

Given the high-flying rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle, it's unclear whether there even is a list.

"Getting [candidates] to pay attention to investing in infrastructure on a big scale — that's been a big challenge," says Anne Canby, director of OneRail Coalition, which advocates for freight- and passenger-rail policies.

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