March 10, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Payne Statements from Hearing on the Relevance of Rail for U.S. Economic and Environmental Progress

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 Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) during today’s hearing titled, “Full Steam Ahead for Rail: Why Rail is More Relevant Than Ever for Economic and Environmental Progress.” Videos of DeFazio and Payne’s opening statements are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Subcommittee Chair Payne and Ranking Member Crawford, for holding this hearing. Chair Payne, congratulations on your first hearing as Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. I know that access to great rail service is very important for your constituents, and you will be a strong advocate for them in your new role.

We are here today to discuss the importance of both passenger and freight rail service to our economy and our environment. Climate change is an existential threat to our very existence. Burying our heads in the sand is not going to work. We need to actively push for ways to mitigate emissions, and we need to be doing it now!  Improved rail service can be part of the solution. 

People are sick and tired of spending an hour and a half to drive 20 miles to get home from work. For years, the proposed solution to traffic was to add more highway lanes. But today we know that only creates “induced demand”—meaning the more lanes you add, the more drivers you attract, creating a vicious cycle of more congestion, more carbon pollution, more time wasted sitting in traffic.

According to Amtrak’s statistics, traveling on the electrified Northeast Corridor system emits 83 percent fewer GHG emissions than driving and up to 73 percent fewer than flying. As a result, we need to start looking at rail as a central part of the solution to congestion. That is why the Moving Forward Act included a $60 billion rail title that was heavily focused on passenger rail investments and created a number of new multi-modal programs that include passenger rail eligibility.

At today’s hearing, we will hear testimony from the Virginia Secretary of Transportation about some of the rail investments the state of Virginia will be making in the coming years, and how a project like Long Bridge can help clear bottlenecks to improve passenger and freight service throughout the Northeast corridor and beyond. Instead of just adding more lanes to Interstate 95, the state is making the smart choice to invest in rail.  

Likewise, rail tops the list of the most efficient ways to move freight, second only to barges. Rail customers are tracking the overall carbon footprint of their goods movements, and corporate boards and shareholders are pushing for a greener supply chain—this all leads to an opportunity for freight rail. Freight railroads of all sizes should look to seize the moment not only because it’s better for our environment, but because it’s better for business. 

Finally, railroads are a source of good-paying jobs with great benefits that are capable of supporting middle class families. It’s no coincidence that this industry has a high rate of union representation. About 84% of Class I railroad employees are represented by a labor union, as are roughly 85% of Amtrak’s workers.

The importance of those jobs reaches beyond the direct benefit to workers—they extend into the communities where workers spend their money, supporting local economies. Any consideration of the economic benefits of rail must include these downstream effects, as well as the many construction jobs created by rail expansion.

The rail industry is well positioned to be part of the solution to addressing climate change and growing our economy. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about these important issues.

Chair Payne:

Good morning. I’m honored to kick off the first subcommittee hearing of this Congress as the new Chair of this subcommittee.

My district and my state are widely dependent on reliable rail service—both passenger and freight. As such, I’m a major advocate for passenger and freight rail, not just in New Jersey but across our country.

The work of this committee is critical to protecting the safety and security of rail passengers and employees, during and after this global pandemic.

That’s why we need to be forward thinking about safety in order to avoid the types of preventable accidents that cost lives and harm the environment.

With the mandate to install positive train control systems finally complete, I hope to see widespread safety improvements in the industry. In this subcommittee, we will explore the ways we can continue to improve these safety improvements. 

In addition, we will review the need for disadvantaged business enterprise programs within the rail space. We hear a lot about ensuring equity in transportation and it’s time to turn that talk into actionable programs. 

But the critical component to the future of rail is modernization.  It will lead to greater safety improvements as well as more effective passenger transportation. 

Also, I want the subcommittee to explore the numerous ideas for high speed rail. When I look at the gap between the United States and the rest of the world, I see potential. I’d say there are many opportunities for high speed rail in the U.S.

I remain determined to steer substantial federal investment towards the U.S. rail system to expand rail opportunities that broaden our economic base.

Last year, Chair DeFazio ushered H.R. 2 through the House, investing $60 billion in the U.S. rail system.

I supported that bill and the subcommittee is already redrafting a rail title for surface reauthorization in anticipation of a major infrastructure push this year.  We will get this done and rail will be front and center.

Today’s hearing is the next step in that effort. I am determined to highlight the importance of rail in today’s complex surface transportation system.

The title of the hearing, “Full Steam Ahead for Rail: Why Rail is More Relevant Than Ever for Economic and Environmental Progress,” is a throwback to the old steam engines that dominated the rail industry over a hundred years ago.

Too many people discount rail as a bygone era. But I don’t think they understand the value that rail currently brings to our nation.

So, we need everyone to understand the benefits rail provides.

I hope to hear today’s witnesses highlight the economic and environmental advantages that rail is responsible for.

I want to learn more about the economic advantages of moving freight over the rails.

I want to learn how we can increase the number of jobs rail transportation supports nationwide and how we can sustain the quality of these jobs.

Finally, I want to hear about the many ways rail can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and further our nation’s fight against climate change.

I hope the Members of this subcommittee get a better appreciation for the importance of passenger rail and freight rail today.

Rail benefits all of us—urban and rural, rich and poor, Republican and Democratic—by contributing to a more robust economy with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a win-win

So I hope you will all join me in the subcommittee’s efforts to support and expand our freight and passenger rail systems.