Railroads outline infrastructure needs in Capitol Hill briefing

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An Amtrak Acela Express crosses the Susquehanna River at Havre De Grace, Md.
Chase Gunnoe
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has yet to unveil its plan for fixing America's infrastructure, but many in Washington believe that it's going to lean heavily on private investment, so-called public-private partnerships.

But “3Ps” are not likely to benefit Amtrak, says Caroline Decker, Amtrak's senior vice president for government affairs and communications.

“There's a lot discussion about an infrastructure package with PPPs, but when it comes to Amtrak and our infrastructure, most of that is going to require direct federal investment,” Decker tells Trains News Wire.

Decker was one of four industry executives who provided basic information about railroads for congressional staff members and other transportation policy-makers. The panel discussion was intended for people unfamiliar with railroads, according to moderator Shawn McCoy, publisher of InsideSources, an online newsletter. The event was sponsored by the Association of American Railroads.

Decker told the group that Amtrak's infrastructure needs ranged from replacing aging bridges, tunnels and power distribution systems on the Northeast Corridor to buying new passenger cars to replace rolling stock that's 50 years old and older.

Freight railroads are not seeking federal funding, said Ian Jeffries, senior vice president for government affairs with the AAR. Railroads were looking for ways to address funding shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund and other user-pay systems. The trust fund has been replenished from general revenue for several years, and that gives the trucking industry a competitive advantage.

“Truckers are our biggest partners, and our biggest competitors,” Jeffries says. Railroads also would like to see the streamlining of environmental reviews when seeking permits for new construction.

"Policy makers need to remember that shortline railroads are small businesses, and changes in policy could have unintended consequences. Raising the weight limit for trucks on the highway could harm short lines," said Jo Strang, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association vice president for safety and regulatory policy.

Nicole Berwin, vice president for government affairs with the Railroad Supply Institute, said policy makers should look at the industry as an integrated whole that includes carriers and suppliers. She noted that there is a greater turnover among members of Congress that makes it more difficult to deliver the industry's message.

“It doesn't help that we have to go in every two years and re-educate people,” she said.

Wednesday's panel discussion began with the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee, Chairman U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and ranking member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., receiving the first-ever AAR achievement awards from President Ed Hamberger.

“We're looking forward to hearing what the administration has to put forward in terms of an infrastructure proposal,” Thune says. “When we receive that, we will look forward to doing everything we can to shape it, and advance good policy that is conducive to making sure we have a strong railroad network.”

“We have a lot of infrastructure to be added to as well as repaired. Not the least of that is our railroads,” Nelson said. “When you think about us wanting to get to where we want to go, to have goods delivered on time, there's no other choice than the long haul of goods on the railroads.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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