March 04, 2020

Chairs DeFazio, Lipinski Statements from Hearing on Freight and Passenger Rail

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) during today’s hearing titled: “Funding a Robust Freight and Passenger Rail Network.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chairman Lipinski and Ranking Member Crawford, for calling today’s hearing to discuss how the Federal government can be a better partner in repairing and building-out robust national freight and passenger rail systems. The needs of these systems are massive and complex, the result of decades of underinvestment.

Climate change is one of the most important battles of our time. The fact is, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and we need to act quickly to reduce carbon pollution. As rail is one of the cleanest forms of transportation, making significant investments in our rail network should be part of our plan.  

In 2017, the freight railroads comprised just 2 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and only 0.6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Despite its lower environmental impact, the freight rail industry packs a punch, operating across a 140,000-mile national network to deliver an average of almost 5 million tons of goods per day. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that freight movements are expected to grow across all modes and will increase 42 percent by 2040. It is critical that our freight rail network is capable of keeping pace with demand.

Our passenger rail network also contributes to lower emissions. According to their statistics, Amtrak is 47 percent more efficient than car travel and 33 percent more efficient than domestic air travel, per passenger mile. While demand for commuter and intercity passenger rail has increased substantially in recent years, Federal investment has lagged in support for the network that transports tens of millions of passengers annually. 

The average age of an Amtrak rail car traveling across the national network is 34 years old. Amtrak projects an additional $3.8 billion in Federal funds are needed for a series of planned fleet upgrades. As these cars near the end of their useful lives, the infrastructure they operate over isn’t fairing much better. In the Northeast Corridor, the backlog of major infrastructure projects totals more than $21 billion, with some infrastructure dating back to the Civil War era in dire need of replacement. 

This is not sustainable. In order to meet future demands, reduce congestion, and meet a state of good repair, now is the time to invest. That is why I am proposing a $55 billion investment in rail projects over 5 years in the next surface reauthorization. 

In 2019 alone, China spent more than $165 billion on rail projects, while countries across Europe are making huge investments in their rail systems. And those numbers will only increase in the years to come as roads become more congested.   

So today, as we find ourselves in the middle of writing the rail title of a surface reauthorization bill, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how Congress can better support freight and passenger rail projects through funding programs— benefitting current and future generations.

Chair DeFazio’s statement as delivered can be found here.

Chair Lipinski:

Good morning.  Today’s hearing is the last hearing before the final drafting of the surface transportation reauthorization bill.  I am very proud of the Subcommittee’s focus the last few months on several important topics in the upcoming reauthorization.  In September, we held a hearing for the first time in this Subcommittee’s recent history on the needs of commuter railroads, and how we must address the state of good repair backlog for commuter rail while we also expand passenger service.  In November, we held an oversight hearing on Amtrak and its future vision, including how to protect long distance train services and ensure Amtrak is respecting the rights of its workers.  Finally, last month we heard testimony on the importance of improving grade crossing safety and addressing other community issues such as the hassles of blocked crossings and the need for more quiet zones.

With January’s release of infrastructure principles by House Democrats, which include a robust $55 billion investment for rail infrastructure, today’s hearing will focus on how we can best utilize this proposed investment to strengthen our passenger and freight rail networks and what role the Federal Government should play as part of this investment.

I am pleased that we have multiple perspectives today about this important topic.  I have spoken many times about the importance of the CREATE program in Chicago, and how it is enhancing both passenger and freight service in the Chicago region by relieving rail congestion.  I look forward hearing from Mr. Artl about ACEC’s perspective on the importance of programs like CREATE and how the federal government can advance the CREATE projects not currently completed which disproportionately are grade separations.  The need for more grade separations is one of the top issues I hear about from my constituents.

I am delighted we also have Dr. Sandra Bury, mayor of the village of Oak Lawn, who will emphasize the importance of commuter rail service to her community and others.  Metra rail service is the economic foundation of these communities and it’s imperative we do what we can to expand Metra service.  Part of building a more robust passenger rail network is streamlining the process between local communities and the freight railroads on adding commuter rail service.  It should not take 10 years or more to add additional commuter train service.  I look forward to the Mayor’s testimony on that issue as well as the real world impact Oak Lawn is facing because of Metra’s state of good repair backlog.

Finally, I am pleased that we have Rob Shanahan from the BMWED to testify about the importance of labor protections as part of any investment.  While I am one of Congress’s biggest advocates for increased infrastructure investment, especially in our rail infrastructure, we must make sure that these investments don’t undermine the bedrock labor protections in our laws or jeopardize the livelihoods of unionized men and women.  Recently, there has been a concerning amount of contracting out of formerly union work in the Chicago area by Amtrak to non-union workers. I look forward to Mr. Shanahan’s testimony on the very serious and concerning safety implications of Amtrak’s actions.

America has a freight rail network that is the envy of the world. While much of the investment in our freight rail network is by private companies, federal investments in recent years have played a critical role in strengthening our national freight network.  Some notable projects involving federal funding and leadership include the 75th Street CIP project in Chicago, and the Crescent and Heartland corridor projects that greatly expedited double stack freight corridors in much of the Eastern United States.  I am interested in Mr. Jeffries’ testimony on how the federal government can continue to be a partner with freight railroads and build a more robust freight rail network.

With that I recognize Ranking Member Crawford for an opening statement.

Chair Lipinski’s statement as delivered can be found here.