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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

ASLRRA, APTA, REMSA call for public infrastructure investments


Railroad associations unveiled their 2018 legislative wish lists, including ideas for President Donald Trump's highly anticipated infrastructure package.

At a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-hosted infrastructure summit yesterday, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) called for any infrastructure package to include a permanent extension of the so-called 45G tax credit, which provides a tax credit to short lines that invest in their rail infrastructure.

Last year, legislation aimed at making the credit permanent reached a majority support in the U.S. House and Senate. Under the bill, a short line would receive a 50-cent tax credit for every $1 invested in infrastructure, with a credit cap of $3,500 per mile of track.

"There are three critical items for the more than 600 small business railroads as congressional focus turns to an infrastructure funding package: the long-term extension, or permanency, of the short line tax credit (which the association hopes will be included in a 2018 Budget deal on a short-term basis); modal equity; and ensuring eligibility and priority for short line freight railroad projects in funding programs," ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr said at yesterday's conference, according to a press release.

The short line industry has addressed tie replacement and some upgrades to allow modern rail cars on the system, she said.

"However, heavier rail and significant bridge repairs are still badly needed across much of the network to allow all short lines to operate modern cars and run as efficiently as our Class I partners," Darr added. "We have estimated that our industry will need to invest $10 billion to complete this additional work."

As privately held companies, short lines largely fund their track and bridge upgrades from operating cash flows. That is in "stark contrast" to competing modes of transportation that do not cover their cost for the public infrastructure they use, according to ASLRRA.

"We are advocates for modal equity, ensuring that infrastructure is paid for by a user-based system such as a diesel tax or vehicle miles traveled fee for those using the network," said Darr.  

ASLRRA also wants Congress to ensure that an infrastructure package includes project funding in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) echoed the U.S. Chamber's call earlier this week for an increase in the federal gas tax to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.

The trust fund pays for surface transportation infrastructure repairs, including for public transit systems.

More than $90 billion is needed to bring the nation's public transportation systems into a state of good repair, said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas in a statement. He also noted that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation's public transit infrastructure a D-minus, the lowest rating of any surface transportation mode in the society's analysis.

"APTA believes the infrastructure bill is the best near-term opportunity to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and the surface transportation programs it funds," said Skoutelas. "APTA supports increasing the federal gas tax to provide for sustained and dedicated revenues."

Also yesterday, the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association (REMSA) announced its three advocacy priorities for 2018: passing an infrastructure package, preventing "misguided" regulations and supporting first-and-last mile rail service.
"We were pleased to see Congress successfully pass a tax reform package, but we all know there is much more work to be done to ensure a healthy rail network," said REMSA President Bruce Wise in a press release. "We must commit to the sustainable funding of our nation's infrastructure and prevent misguided regulations that jeopardize the health of the rail supply community."

As part of those legislative priorities, REMSA endorsed extending the 45G tax credit, which expired in 2016. It also opposes the Surface Transportation Board's notice of a proposed rulemaking on competitive access to rail lines. Under the proposed rules, "railroads would be required to give their competitors access to their rail lines," according to REMSA's statement.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/19/2018