The importance of freight and passenger rail to America's transportation system and the economy was the focus of a Congressional hearing today chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA).
The hearing of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials was Denham's first as the panel's chairman. One of the Committee's priorities this Congress is developing a rail reauthorization, and Denham called today's hearing as the next step in that process.
"Railroads are an integral part of North America's infrastructure network," Denham said. "Chairman Shuster and I are committed to reauthorizing America's rail this year, and this hearing will be a productive start to that effort. Our goal is to reexamine what has worked in the past and what needs to be reformed. We have to be pragmatic and transparent and are counting on participation from all parties in order to deliver a bipartisan, robust and comprehensive reauthorization to the House floor."
"Today's hearing is a good start to the Subcommittee's work this year," said Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). "The U.S. rail network is intricate, complex, and unique, yet invaluable in its benefits. Railroads, through their skilled and dedicated employees, move people and goods across this country every day, driving each State's economic growth and helping ensure the Nation's global competitiveness."
The panel of witnesses participating in today's hearing included Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. Hamberger testified about America's freight rail network, recognized as the best in the world. The approximately 565 freight railroads in the country operate over more than 200,000 miles of privately owned track. Hamberger discussed the freight railroads' continued investment in its infrastructure, the industry's high safety standard, and the role played by deregulation in the success of America's railroads.
Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula J. Hammond, who also chairs both the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and AASHTO's High Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Leadership Group, testified about the ways states partner with freight railroads and Amtrak.
Freight and passenger rail employs over 200,000 workers, and the industry is heavily unionized. James Stem, National Legislative Director of the Transportation Division of SMART, provided perspective on labor's history and role within the industry.
Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman discussed the creation and role of the Nation's intercity passenger rail service. Established by Congress in 1970, Amtrak runs approximately 300 trains per day over 21,100 route-miles, primarily over rail infrastructure owned by the freight rails.