August 15, 2013

Remarks of Ranking Member Rahall; CSX Suppliers Conference

Remarks of U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall

Ranking Member, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

CSX Suppliers Conference

August 16, 2013

It is great to be here today and I thank you for that kind introduction.  Often when I get to speak with groups like yours, we meet in Washington, at Congressional meeting rooms and nondescript convention halls.  

It is much nicer to be here at this historic and timeless venue – The Greenbrier – just a short drive up the road from my home in Beckley.

It is particularly fitting that we would be meeting here, given the history of this landmark. The Greenbrier, this sanctuary of Southern charm, has long been linked to railroads. 

In 1910 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad purchased this incredible place and transformed it, adding many of the grand touches you appreciate today.

When CSX took possession, it carried forward The Greenbrier’s uniquely enchanting traditions, caring for this place with the precision for detail that had made it so desirable. 

Then in 2009, Jim Justice stepped up to preserve this outstanding haven in “Almost Heaven,” setting into motion his own vision for a Greenbrier that would preserve the best of the past, while seamlessly incorporating 21st century touches.  I am so glad he did.

In times past, steam locomotives crept and crawled over the West Virginia mountainsides, delivering their passengers to the cool, green grounds of this retreat.  Many people today – perhaps some of you – still ride the rails to visit this remarkable resort, disembarking just down the road at Amtrak’s White Sulphur Springs stop.

All across the country, in fact, in both rural and urban areas, American’s are demanding increased passenger rail service.  More Americans rode the rails last year than at any other time in the past four decades. 

These record ridership numbers and the increased use our rail infrastructure come just as the House Transportation Committee, on which I serve as top Democrat, is getting set to reauthorize the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, or PRIIA as it is called, which was passed by Congress in 2008 and expires at the end of September. 

That means that our Committee will need to act this Fall in order to reauthorize Amtrak’s budget for operations and for capital investments such as track work, signal maintenance, and other improvements to our passenger rail infrastructure.

Unfortunately, despite Amtrak’s recent record of success and the clear demand among the traveling public for increased passenger rail service, Republicans in the House of Representatives have assembled an appropriations bill that cuts funding for Amtrak by almost a third.  

I am hopeful that this bill never sees light at the end of tunnel, and if it does see a light, let’s hope it’s from a freight train.

The impacts of such steep cuts will be felt far beyond the resulting decrease in passenger rail service. 

Jobs will be lost as needed replacement and overhaul of rail cars and locomotives are canceled. Service improvements that Congress has previously demanded from Amtrak will be derailed and work to bring rail infrastructure to state of good repair will not be performed. 

I hope that as the appropriations process unfolds, Congress is able to provide sufficient funding for Amtrak to meet the growing demand for passenger rail service. 

As Congress gets set to reauthorize PRIIA, I am confident that everyone in this room joins me in wanting to see a high standard of rail safety maintained in this country.

Earlier this summer, the horrific tanker car accident in Quebec served as a tragic reminder of the dangers inherent in transporting hazardous materials.

I have already inquired about the status of the petition filed by the Association of American Railroads and the members of AAR’s Tank Car Committee, many of whom are in this room, that was submitted to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration back in March 2011 requesting adoption of new standards for construction of stronger Class 111 tank cars. 

Part of ensuring rail safety is helping cargo move as smoothly and efficiently as possible across our multifaceted freight network. 

Right now, freight is being governed by one policy when it passes through our ports, another when it is rides on our rails, and yet another when it’s on the back of a truck. But our freight network is interconnected and interdependent and I believe it should be should be treated that way.

That’s why Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and I have assembled a special Congressional panel that is dedicated to developing a national freight policy. 

We are looking at ways to reduce idle times, eliminate freight bottlenecks and ensure that tunnel clearances are sufficient for double-stacked railcars. 

Panel members have already visited major freight operations in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Memphis and have held several Congressional hearings on the subject. We’ve heard many good ideas and we hope to have a full set of recommendations for improving freight transportation for approval by our Committee in the coming months.

As a West Virginian, I know full well the benefits of freight rail. If coal is the lifeblood of our economy, freight rail serves as the arteries, enabling the transport across the country and around the globe of coal mined in these West Virginia mountains.

But in recent years, regulations and rhetoric coming from Washington have seriously complicated the future of coal. Under the current Administration, EPA has taken direct aim at Appalachia using and abusing seemingly every regulatory tool in its arsenal to stymie, disrupt, and prevent coal mining. 

As the centerpiece of his plan to address climate change, the President announced that he will force existing coal-fired power plants to comply with emissions standards that they will be unable to meet.  

Unelected bureaucrats will be handed the keys to our energy future with prewritten instructions to lock away our most abundant fuel sources behind unprecedented regulatory barriers. 

Some of the consequences of this ill-conceived scheme are easy to identify.  If energy suddenly becomes more expensive, the costs for businesses and nearly every manner of industrial activity in this country will increase.  Jobs will be sent overseas to locations where energy costs are less. 

Others effects of such an overhaul of the regulatory landscape are harder to decipher but are no less detrimental. 

For example, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and an endless line of suppliers, many of whom are in this room, have invested billions in the Appalachian rail corridors that for decades have transported coal from our mines to the East and Gulf Coasts, the Great Lakes, and our Inland Waterways. 

Under the President’s plan, the long lines of hopper cars that once rumbled through our mountains transporting the fuel that has powered our nation for generations will dwindle.  Rail jobs and rail income will take a hit.

I am working hard in Washington against what the President has put forward and hope that you will lend your voices to this effort as well.  I also ask that you continue to weigh in as Congress crafts a passenger rail bill and looks for ways to boost American rail infrastructure.   

Thank you again for inviting me here today and thank you for all you do to keep America rolling down the tracks.