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Public Statements

Recognizing the Freight Railroad Industry

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Res. 1366, as amended, which honors the freight railroad industry and its employees and the important contributions they have made to our nation and the national transportation system.

Freight railroads have played an essential role in the growth of our country since 1825, when Colonel John Stevens, considered the father of railroads, demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. By 1830, railroads were still in their infancy and there was less than 40 miles of track in operation.

However, Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb locomotive would change the face of railroad locomotion forever on August 28, 1830, when his American-built locomotive was challenged by horse-drawn equipment in a head-to-head race. The Tom Thumb easily pulled away from the horse until a belt on the locomotive slipped and failed. Though Peter Cooper and his locomotive lost the race, it was apparent that the locomotive offered superior performance. Steam locomotives would reign over American railroads for the next 100 years.

From these very humble beginnings, railroads brought economic and social changes never dreamed of by early Americans. Just 10 years later, in 1840, railroad mileage increased to slightly over 2,800 miles, tripling to over 9,000 miles by 1850. In 1860, mileage tripled again to more than 30,000 miles and brought prosperity to all the communities that railroads touched. Railroads moved manufactured goods, farm implements, and building materials to the west, while bringing meat, produce and other crops to the east. Steam locomotives raced along averaging 25 miles per hour, reducing trips that used to take days to hours. For example, a trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to St. Louis, Missouri, was reduced from three days to just 16 hours.

On July 1, 1862, the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, as enacted by Congress, was approved and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. This led to the creation of the first transcontinental railroad, when the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad linked at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, connecting over 1700 miles of western railroads to the eastern railroads at the Missouri River. This established the first mechanized transcontinental transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American west.

While the railroads moved goods across the country and helped build cities and towns across the west, the railroad was also the hi-tech industry of its day, responsible for innovations such as ``standard time'' and pioneering the use of the telegraph as a nationwide dispatching communication system.

The railroad industry was also a leader in bringing about worker protections. The Railway Labor Act of 1926 established basic principles of fair bargaining and mediation. Our Nation's social security system, enacted in 1935, was based partly on provisions of the Railroad Retirement Act of 1934. Today, more than 183,000 hardworking, dedicated Americans help keep our country and its trains moving around the clock.

Our freight rail industry is composed of an efficient and well-maintained network, moving 2.2 billion tons of freight over 140,000 miles of railroad annually. Freight rail is also one of the most energy-efficient modes of transportation, moving one ton of freight 480 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. One train can take 280 trucks off the road--the equivalent of 1,100 automobiles.

Freight and intercity passenger rail are important components of our nation's economic strength and mobility. Freight railroads account for 43 percent of intercity freight volume--more than any other mode of transportation.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H. Res. 1366.


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