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Rail News Home Federal Legislation & Regulation

April 2013

Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Seizing the Day on a receptive Hill (a Railroad Day recap)


— by Pat Foran, Editor

It was a chilly Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, but the reception railroaders received was anything but. About 400 of them climbed the Hill on March 14, asking congressfolk to support the short-line tax credit, preserve the current regulatory framework, and refrain from sponsoring yet another measure to boost truck size and weight. From what I saw and heard, lawmakers generally seemed to connect with many of the rail messages and genuinely appreciated the manner in which railroaders attempted to relay them.

It was evident at a National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association dinner held the night before. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), the lead Democrat on the short-line tax credit extension measure, defined Railroad Day thusly: "It's the day that I have more people in my office than I ever have." And it's not just a presence-in-numbers thing. "You engender bipartisan support," tax-credit bill backer Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told railroaders. "At a time when it's hard to get people to cooperate, you are able to do that."

The capacity to connect was on display the next day, as well, although distinguishing lawmaker engagement from professional courtesy is something of a spectator sport. But in most of the visits I sat in on — many were in offices of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure rail subcommittee members — staffers and legislators were focused. Many knew the issues and some used rail vernacular. One lawmaker even asked about a subject railroaders didn't raise. "Is PTC something you all are still concerned about?" asked a Republican congressman, a freshman, no less. Representatives from two Class Is replied, "Uh, yes."

Credit the rail lobby for its consistent and increasingly strident-free message sending on the Hill. The extent to which the messages resonate in another regulatory corner is a different matter. As an aide to a Democratic congresswoman put it, railroaders have "a lot more to be concerned about" at the Surface Transportation Board (STB). Among other items, the board is mulling a petition for a rulemaking to adopt revised competitive switching rules. On March 19, the STB denied a petition filed by the Association of American Railroads that requested the board institute a rulemaking to consider reintroducing indirect competition as a factor in determining coal-rate reasonableness.

In the meantime, the message sending will continue, and not only to Hill dwellers. Will the rail messages resonate with the three-member STB? No predictions here. But we'll find out soon enough.


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