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By Pat Foran, Editor
On March 13, more than 300 rail industry representatives descended on Washington, D.C., during the annual “Railroad Day on Capitol Hill.” Their aim? Persuade Congress to pass legislation that would help expand rail capacity — and reject “re-regulatory” measures the rail lobby insists would limit railroads’ ability to invest in infrastructure.
The lobbyists for a day included representatives from the Association of American Railroads, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Railway Supply Institute, Railway Tie Association, Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association, Railway Systems Suppliers Inc., National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association and Go21, a non-profit organization seeking solutions to U.S. freight transportation needs.
The day began with a 7 a.m. orientation session conducted by AAR Senior Vice President of Legislation Obie O’Bannon and Adam Nordstrom, a partner in Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell L.L.C. O’Bannon and Nordstrom asked attendees to urge lawmakers to:
At 8:30 a.m., the group headed for the Hill.
In groups of five, six and often more, the lobbyists spent the next eight hours shuttling between the not-easy-to-navigate-unless-you-work-there complex of buildings that house the offices of senators and congressmen. More often than not, the elected officials didn’t show; staffers cited budget package floor votes as the primary reason. But that didn’t mean the meetings weren’t productive.
A visit to the office of Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) — who chairs the House Transportation Committee and sponsors S. 953/H.R. 2125 — revealed that both pieces of tax credit legislation would receive serious consideration, with Section 45G likely to be extended, a staffer said. He also acknowledged that Oberstar, who’d had hip replacement surgery two days earlier and wouldn’t be able to make the meeting, “agreed to disagree” with the rail contingent with respect to the “competition” bill.
At the office of Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who has sponsored iterations of the Railroad Competition Act in the past, a half-dozen rail-industry advocates articulated their case and suggested that the senator could support the tax-credit measures, regardless of his position on “re-reg.” “Your boss has always had a penchant for a vision,” said one railroader/lobbyist, a message the staffer seemed to appreciate.
The reception was warmer at the office of Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), an H.R. 1584 co-sponsor who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. A dozen railroaders/lobbyists were told that Amtrak reauthorization was a hot-button issue on the Hill these days, and that high-speed rail legislation would be introduced soon. (A day later, Mica introduced H.R. 5644 — see page 15.) The congressman’s door, the lobbyists were told, is always open.
“When you’re hearing anything that’s troubling you, or you need anything, just call,” said John Brennan, Mica’s staff director and counsel.
Nothing’s quite that simple in the Land of Lawmaking, and the lobbyists didn’t have any illusions about the impression they made on the 13th. But they didn’t dismiss it, either. The reception they received wouldn’t let them. As a staffer to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) put it to an aide as 13 rail advocates waited to talk tax credits, re-reg and freight-rail’s future: “The railroad guys are here.”
They sure were.
“Our message is beginning to get through,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger during the event’s cap-off dinner at D.C.’s Grand Hyatt Hotel. “I think we’ll see a real breakthrough in the next 18 months.”