Shuster says a 'mother' infrastructure package is in the works

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WASHINGTON — A top House Republican says a coming infrastructure package could be the "Mother of all Bills."

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., dabbled in word play Wednesday about legislation instead of ordnance (the nickname, "Mother of all bombs," refers to a U.S. Air Force bomb weighing tons) and would cover broadband communications and the national power grid in addition to transportation infrastructure.

Despite the size and scope, Shuster says he expected the bill would proceed as a bipartisan effort.

“It's going to be something where we can find common ground across the aisle with our counterparts. Everybody knows we need to invest,” Schuster says.

He did not indicate when such a bill would be introduced.

Shuster spoke at a hearing of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee hearing to review safety regulation and reform. He noted that railroads were already spending $30 billion on infrastructure improvement, and “I'm confident that if we allow railroads to keep more of their profits, that $30 billion will grow.”

Witnesses for the railroad industry called for federal regulation that was more flexible, innovative and responsive to changes in technology.

Linda Bauer Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, said that minimum training standards under the Railroad Safety Improvement Act “imposes a major paperwork burden on short lines with no corresponding safety benefit.”

The Federal Railroad Administration's interpretation of the law “goes far beyond anything contemplated by the statute.”

For emphasis, she thumped a thick book of training guidelines that would have to be replicated 26 times to cover all crafts employed by short lines. The ASLRRA submitted the book to the FRA for review. It took the agency more than a year to respond.

In her written testimony, Darr pointed to 92-day locomotive inspections, a proposed FRA rule that would require two-person train crews, and the Surface Transportation Board's proposal to re-regulate movement of certain commodities as examples of burdensome regulation.

Roger Nober, BNSF executive vice president for law and corporate affairs, said regulators should embrace technological changes that improve rail safety.

“Well-meaning safety regulators can be extremely risk-averse in their approach to reviewing or changing regulations, especially those that have been long in place, even in an increasingly technologically transformed work environment,” Nober said.

Nober said that embedded microprocessors provide real-time information on the proper functioning of signals, grade-crossing equipment, railcars, and locomotives that are superior to rules requiring periodic visual inspections.

In written testimony, Nober said that Congress set out to make positive train control a performance standard “by identifying the types of incidents it wanted to see prevented … The railroads should have been left to identify and implement the best means to achieve those goals.

“Going forward, regulatory oversight of the installation, testing and eventual complete implementation of PTC should focus not on monitoring and inspecting every aspect of equipment and technology but rather on the overall functionality and effectiveness of the final system to deliver the identified safety outcomes.”

Nober also called on greater flexibility in granting waivers that allow railroads to test new technology. In addition, regulators should be discouraged from making rule changes through guidance, safety advisories, and emergency orders that bypass the Administrative Procedures Act, the federal law that defines the way agencies make new rules.

John Tolman, vice president and national legislative representative for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, warned that railroads are attempting to downplay worker fatigue and push employees in to “super pools” that extend their' operating territories. He also said that PTC would not prevent all accidents.

Toman also noted railroads' resistance to electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. He said existing brakes work, “but clearly there is newer and better technology available that can slow and stop trains up to 70 percent faster.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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