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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee - Freight and Passenger Rail in America's Transportation System


Location: Washington, DC

I want to thank Chairman Denham for holding today's hearing. I know he is committed to improving our nation's freight and passenger rail system, and I look forward to working with him this Congress on some important legislation. This hearing will be very helpful to our new Members and a good start in preparing to reauthorize the Passenger Rail Investment and improvement Act (PRIIA).

I truly appreciate what freight and passenger rail have done and will continue do for our country and I am pleased to again serve as the Ranking Member of the subcommittee for the 113th Congress. My top priorities for rail continue to be increasing investment in freight and passenger rail; expanding passenger and high-speed rail throughout the country; ensuring a safe workplace; and putting American's and entire communities back to work. I will also continue to fight to ensure minority participation in leadership and contracting throughout the transportation industry.

The fact is that railroads are the backbone of North America's transportation network. From the building of our nation's first railroad in 1828, to the creation of Amtrak in 1970, railroads have played a central role in our nation's economic development.

Every year, America's freight railroads invest billions of dollars of their own capital -- not taxpayer money -- to maintain bridges, lay new track, purchase equipment, and upgrade signal systems. In fact, railroads spend five times more on capital expenditures than the average U.S. manufacturer. In 2013, railroads plan to spend $24.5 billion to maintain, grow, and modernize the network.

Amtrak is also investing, thanks to increased funding authorized by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and provided through various appropriations acts and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In 2012, Amtrak carried a record 31.2 million passengers, a 55 percent increase since 1997. Meanwhile, their requests for operating assistance have decreased dramatically.

Together, our nation's freight and passenger railroads employ more than 250,000 people. Railroad suppliers employ another 95,000 workers. Thanks to these hardworking men and women, we literally have the greatest freight rail system in the world. I hear this from transportation leaders across the globe.

In addition to easing highway congestion, shifting freight from trucks and passengers from cars to rail have substantial environmental and energy benefits. Freight trains are at least four times more fuel efficient than trucks, and can move one ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel.

Like freight rail, passenger rail has substantial environmental and energy benefits. The Sightline Institute estimates that the average intercity passenger train produces two-thirds less carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-mile than a car or truck and half the greenhouse emissions of an airplane.

Shifting freight and passengers from roads to railways can also have a positive impact on safety, as rail is one of the safest transportation modes.

My home state of Florida, while missing the train on high-speed rail, is seeing a resurgence in rail with an expanded freight system with new port access, a new commuter rail system under construction in Central Florida with additional lines to come, and a private passenger rail system in development, which will serve Central and South Florida.

While there is a lot of good news in the rail industry today, we still have a lot of work to do to prepare for the future, but I know that this Subcommittee and all of our stakeholders are up to the challenge.

I was disappointed that we did not have a rail title in the most recent surface transportation reauthorization bill. This prevented us from addressing some critical safety issues, improving the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program to make it easier for the industry to access capital, and mandating a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program at the Federal Railroad Administration.

With that, I want to welcome today's panelists, especially Mr. Boardman who should have a witness chair named in his honor for the numerous times he has appeared before the Committee these last several years. I look forward to hearing your testimony and your ideas for preparing our rail system for the future.

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