Looking Ahead to Biden Era, Officials Eye Investments in Rail Infrastructure
WASHINGTON – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Material conducted a hearing Wednesday exploring the Surface Transportation Board’s part in developments to the country’s passenger rail system.
During the hearing, executive officials from Metra, Amtrak and the STB gave expert testimony before the subcommittee on conflicts between passenger and freight rail companies, proposed rail projects and budgetary constraints.
“Passenger rail is an important part of the climate change puzzle,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at the hearing. “It is extremely fuel efficient — much more so than individual passenger vehicles, buses and airplanes, obviously. The commuter systems in particular take cars off our congested roadways and reduce short-haul flights.”
If trains could reliably deliver passengers on-time to their in-state destinations — particularly in distances between 100 and 500 miles — hundreds more commuters would utilize the railways, DeFazio said.
DeFazio noted that reliability continues to be an issue for Amtrak in his home state of Oregon, however, with service on the south-bound Cascades rail line having just a 58.3% on-time performance rating.
The subcommittee’s hearing occurred one day after Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration officials hosted a virtual public hearing regarding the state’s proposed rail plan.
In the draft of Pennsylvania’s state rail plan, a number of proposed rail projects for both passenger and freight trains are laid out. During the PennDOT and FRA hearing, officials fielded participants’ questions in order to incorporate their input into the finalized rail plan.
“Pennsylvania’s integrated rail system will provide safe, convenient, reliable, cost-effective connections for both people and goods,” Alannah Strohecker, AECOM project manager, said at the hearing. “As a viable alternative to other modes, it will support our economic competitiveness, smart growth, and environmental sustainability and resiliency, thereby strengthening Pennsylvania’s communities.”
The addition of another Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg daily round-trip train was one of the proposed projects mentioned in the hearing. PennDOT has plans for 48 passenger and 86 freight short-range rail projects, estimated to cost a combined $3.3 billion between 2021 and 2024.
Residents of the Commonwealth should not expect to see any of these major rail projects from PennDOT underway anytime soon, however. All ongoing projects scheduled through the end of the year are refurbishments and improvements to regional passenger railway, according to the drafted rail plan.
Angela Watson, multimodal special projects manager for PennDOT, said the department currently lacks the funds for new commuter railways, and that the FRA does not monetarily contribute to commuter-rail projects.
President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration plans to prioritize railway investments nationwide as a “clean energy” initiative, according to his campaign website. Funding for expansions to high-speed rail, resuming long-distance services and refurbishing existing railways are some of the measures Biden makes note of in his platform.
“Biden will make sure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world — for both passengers and freight,” his campaign site reads. “His rail revolution will reduce pollution, connect workers to good union jobs, slash commute times, and spur investment in communities that will now be better linked to major metropolitan areas.”
The text continues, “To speed that work, Biden will tap existing federal grant and loan programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, but plans to improve and streamline the loan process. In addition, Biden will work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system, reducing diesel fuel emissions.”
In The News
WASHINGTON -- The Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats is throwing its considerable influence behind a bill that aims to... Read More
WASHINGTON -- The Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats is throwing its considerable influence behind a bill that aims to help unemployed Americans return to work by ensuring they do not lose income when they take a new job. The Strengthening Unemployment Programs to Provide Opportunities... Read More
Centrist Shontel Brown, the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party in Ohio, defeated progressive favorite Nina Turner for her... Read More
Centrist Shontel Brown, the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party in Ohio, defeated progressive favorite Nina Turner for her party’s nomination Tuesday in the special election for the state’s 11th Congressional District. With 100% of precincts in the district reporting Brown garnered 50.2% of the... Read More
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new eviction moratorium that would last until Oct. 3, as the... Read More
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new eviction moratorium that would last until Oct. 3, as the Biden administration sought to quell intensifying criticism from progressives that it was allowing vulnerable renters to lose their homes during a pandemic. The ban announced Tuesday... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Sens. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., proposed legislation on Thursday that would grant tax credits to... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Sens. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., proposed legislation on Thursday that would grant tax credits to energy companies innovating carbon capture or energy storage tech. The legislation, entitled the “Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act of 2021,” would establish investment credits for qualified... Read More
WASHINGTON -- A bicameral bill with bipartisan sponsors would provide $500 million for competitive grants for states to purchase, customize... Read More
WASHINGTON -- A bicameral bill with bipartisan sponsors would provide $500 million for competitive grants for states to purchase, customize and repair vehicles that provide meals to food insecure senior citizens. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Texas and John... Read More
Retaining staff on Capitol Hill has never been easy, but it’s likely never been harder than it is today against... Read More
Retaining staff on Capitol Hill has never been easy, but it’s likely never been harder than it is today against a backdrop of often divisive and toxic politics, the spiralling costs of living in the region, and in the wake of the worst siege of the... Read More