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TEA-21 needs to speed up, increase funds for freight roads, witnesses tell House railroad subcommittee


On March 6, railroad industry and state transportation representatives appeared before the U.S. House Railroads Subcommittee to discuss railroad priorities for Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century's (TEA-21) reauthorization.

"There were some major initiatives taken by the Congress in 1998, including the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing [RRIF] Program, light-density rail line pilot projects and reauthorization of the Swift Rail Development Act," said Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, these programs have not been allowed to fulfill their potential, and have not remotely provided the level of actual resources the Congress contemplated in TEA 21."

Freight roads need to ensure that their infrastructure investments reasonably provide economic benefits, said Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger.

"This discipline is necessary and appropriate in a market economy, but it discourages investment that would yield significant public benefits [and] only limited financial benefits to the railroad," he said.

If Congress reauthorizes TEA-21, witnesses recommended they include a provision that improves the RRIF program's fund flow.

"A major expansion of RRIF and an easing of regulatory barriers to its use could help both short-line and Class I railroads to continue to provide safe and efficient transportation service," said Hamberger.

Other witness suggested the legislation provide more local flexibility in determining where certain transportation funds can be used; maintain funding for grade-crossing safety improvements, repeal railroads' 4.3 cents per-gallon fuel tax; and increase funding and flexibility for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.

"In today's world, surface transportation policy has to be about more than highway policy," said Richard Timmons, president of American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. "The transportation of freight is the lifeblood of most American businesses, and the highway system alone cannot meet our needs."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/7/2003