Railroads to battle against larger trucks on US highways

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WASHINGTON — The battle to authorize larger trucks on the highways has been waged on Capitol Hill for decades. In 1982 Congress enacted a law that limited truck length on federally financed highways to no more than a tractor and two 28-foot trailers, and 82,000 pounds in weight.

Since then, trucking and shipper groups have pushed to increase the limits. Opponents, railroads included, have fended off those attempts. However, this may be the year that the 32-year-old standard may fall, according to information gleaned from trade news media and trade association websites.

Leading the charge is Americans for Modern Transportation, a powerful coalition that includes FedEx, UPS, the two major retail trade associations, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The issue at hand is a proposal that permits truckers to pull two 33-foot trailers — so-called Twin-33s — instead of 28-footers.

The Association of American Railroads, one of the principal opponents of an increase in trailer sizes, had not expressed opposition to the Twin-33 during a battle six years ago. That led the transportation group to believe that the railroads would remain silent when the proposal came up in Congress this year.

AAR President Edward Hamberger tells Trains News Wire that just because railroads had not opposed Twin-33s doesn't mean they support them. In 2012, the longer trailers and a 97,000-pound weight limit were parts of a transportation bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., then chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The AAR and its allies succeeded in removing the length and weight language from the bill. Twin-33s were part of the bill, but Hamberger says the AAR focused on the weight limit.

Earlier this month, AAR announced its opposition to Twin-33s, which apparently caught AMT off guard. AMT Executive Director Randy Mullet expressed disappointment that AAR had joined the opposition.

“Rather than letting the railroads stand in the way, Congress must move forward on common-sense policies such as twin 33-foot trailers,” Mullet says in a statement posted on the AMT website.

“We're not reversing ourselves,” Hamberger tells Trains. “We have been on the sideline on the twin-33 because we didn't go after them in 2012, and we told people we wouldn't.
“But that was 2012, and it's now 2018, and AAR is off the sideline.”

Trade magazine DC Velocity reported this week that individual Class I railroads were neutral on the Twin-33 question.

“Our individual members are very much in support of us being out there,” Hamberger says. “They will not all be aggressively fighting it. Each railroad might take a little bit different position, but the AAR has their 100 percent support for being involved.”

A Department of Transportation appropriations bill that's winding its way through the House may be the vehicle that advocates may try to amend to allow Twin-33s. The bill is to be marked up on May 16 by the House Appropriations subcommittee that has Department of Transportation oversight. The text of the bill includes no language about trucks' length or weight. Opponents anticipate that Congress members who support larger trucks will offer amendments later, when the bill goes to the full Appropriations Committee or in debate in the House itself.
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