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Leaders of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) last week called on Congress to mind the freight-rail industry's contribution to the U.S. economy when drafting major surface transportation legislation next year.AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ian Jefferies and ASLRRA President Chuck Baker were among freight industry leaders testifying last week at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing called to explore the impact of freight transportation on the nation’s economy, environment and society.Jefferies outlined the industry's priorities for surface transportation reauthorization, including the funding of Section 130 grade crossing safety programs; federal regulations that allow railroads to innovate with new technologies; reforms of the project permitting process; Amtrak funding and public partnering with freight railroads; and restoring the Highway Trust Fund to a user-based fund. The industry also opposes policies — such as allowing longer and heavier trucks on roads, bridges and highways — that would hurt railroads' efforts to operate safely and efficiently, Jefferies testified, according to an AAR press release.Meanwhile, Baker said freight railroads support increasing the the yearly authorized level for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program. He also asked that the program's eligibility be expanded to include nonprofit associations that represent short lines."We believe CRISI is an important and effective program that should be continued in the next surface transportation authorization bill," said Baker, according to a press release summarizing his testimony.The ASLRRA also suggested two changes to the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program: Allow the program to support the most efficient and effective freight projects by removing or at least increasing the $500 million cap on non-highway portions of multimodal freight projects; and increase the "small projects" set aside. Currently, a 10 percent cap on small projects does not provide enough opportunity for INFRA grants to be used for most short-line infrastructure projects, Baker said.ASLRRA also supports legislative language that would encourage the U.S. Department of Transportation to select multimodal projects for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program grants and "not just projects that can just as easily be done with the normal state highway allocation," Baker said.Additionally, Baker called for improvements to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan authorization program, as well as allowing short lines to be directly eligible applicants for project grants.