The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will convene a full committee hearing, “Freight Rail Transportation: Enhancing Safety, Efficiency, and Commerce” on Wednesday, January 28, 2015, at 10 a.m. The hearing will focus on challenges facing our nation’s freight rail network created by higher demand, rules and regulations, and infrastructure needs.
“From agriculture to energy production and finished goods, freight rail is a critical lifeline for our economy that also directly employs more than 180,000 Americans,” said Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on announcing the hearing. “This hearing will offer Senators an update on challenges facing the
industry from railroads and those who depend on them.”
January 28, 2015
Full Committee Hearing entitled: “Freight Rail Transportation: Enhancing Safety,
Efficiency, and Commerce”
10:00 a.m. in room SR-253
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Please note the hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. Refresh the Commerce Committee homepage 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to automatically begin streaming the webcast.
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Senator John Thune
"As 2013 and 2014’s freight rail delays and service challenges highlighted, rail service is absolutely critical to our nation’s economy. South Dakota farmers scrambled to find rail cars and watched as rail turn times worsened, delaying shipments and creating grain storage challenges for the record breaking wheat, corn, and soybean crops.
"However, those delays were not just limited to the north central United States, they also extended across the country and impacted every shipping sector and industry.
"Thankfully, this winter’s relatively mild weather and better service have provided some improvements, but there’s still work to be done.
"I am pleased that Genesee and Wyoming, the parent company of South Dakota’s Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E) has joined us for today’s hearing. I look forward to hearing from Dave Brown, the Chief Operating Officer of Genesee and Wyoming, which is the largest Class II railroad in the country with over 100 shortline and regional railroads, about the opportunities and challenges the RCP&E and other shortline railroads face.
"From automobiles, to coal, to ethanol, to agriculture, rail service moves goods from farm and factory to consumer marketplaces across the country and across the globe. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) notes that freight rail moves roughly 40 tons per person each year. As a nation, we rely on cost efficient, timely service to move food, consumer products, and energy resources on a daily basis.
"The private infrastructure that makes up our nation’s freight rail system is costly, as old tracks and equipment require ongoing maintenance and investment. Our nation’s railroads continue to invest in new track, sidings, locomotives, and car resources with the goal of serving their customers. Class I railroads and shortlines alike face increasing demands for prompt, reliable, and safe service.
"In 2014 freight traffic increased nearly five percent over 2013 levels, and we should seek solutions that foster an even stronger freight rail network to meet this increasing demand.
"The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has proposed or finalized over 15 new freight rail safety rules since the passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and many of these regulations will take effect in 2015.
"Not only is the Positive Train Control (PTC) mandate looming, with its December 31st deadline, but the DOT has announced that it expects a crude-by-rail regulation to be published around May of this year.
"Although the PTC deadline is quickly approaching, it remains unattainable. Through the end of 2014, railroads have invested over $5 billion in PTC, and they expect to spend billions more in the coming years.
"They have begun installation of the radio towers, locomotive technology, and other PTC infrastructure, but full compliance with the statutory requirements cannot be achieved by the end of this year. The FRA and the Government Accountability Office have documented the immense technical and programmatic challenges with implementing PTC.
"As a result of these challenges, the DOT has reported that the deadline will not be met and has offered a proposal to ensure the benefits of PTC are realized. I look forward to working with my colleagues on a legislative fix to ensure that we can set a more realistic implementation timeline for this important safety improvement.
"I am also closely monitoring the proposed crude-by-rail requirements.
"I have expressed concerns to the Office of Management and Budget as well as the DOT about the unintended harms that could result from the proposed rule. The DOT estimates its proposed crude-by-rail rule could cost nearly $6 billion, and it acknowledges the rule would increase network delays and out-of-service time for rail equipment.
"Without question, we must improve the safety of our nation’s rail system, but I am concerned about the unattainable deadlines the rule proposes. Like the PTC mandate, there are very real impacts when federal agencies set unreasonable and, many times, unachievable deadlines.
"Among other things, the DOT issued this proposed rule without analyzing the potential tank car shop capacity needed to retrofit or replace over 100,000 DOT-111 tank cars. Shippers have raised concerns about a tank car shortage, with a disruption in energy supply transportation, if DOT finalizes this rule with an unattainable deadline. I look forward to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and the Secretary of Transportation on a realistic timeline for such a phase-out.
"While safety can and should be improved, we certainly do not need to build in system-wide delays and congestion like we have witnessed during the past year and a half.
"Our transportation network connects port to rail to truck. Delays, burdensome regulations, and failing infrastructure disrupt our nation’s economy and cost jobs. So, we must work together to find workable solutions.
"In addition, we must ensure that the Surface Transportation Board, which is tasked with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers, can provide effective and efficient oversight of the rail industry.
"This Committee has a great deal of work to do in addressing freight rail service and safety in addition to passenger rail reauthorizations. I hope Members will bring forward thoughtful solutions as we address these challenges."
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
I want to thank everyone for being here today. I especially want to welcome several of the witnesses from Florida:
- Frank Lonegro, the Vice President for Service Design at CSX in Jacksonville, who has a significant amount of experience working on positive train control technology;
- David Brown, the Chief Operating Officer for Genesee & Wyoming, Inc., also in Jacksonville; and
- Bill Johnson, the former Director of the Port of Miami.
Your presence here today underscores the importance of freight rail not only to Florida, but also to our country.
Historically, railroads played a critical role in developing and uniting our growing nation.
Florida developed around railroads built by the likes of Henry Flagler, a pattern that was repeated around the country.
Today, freight railroads remain the backbone of the nation’s economy.
About 40 percent of all freight in the U.S. moves by rail, more than any other way. That amounts to an average 5 million tons of goods delivered by rail every day.
Freight railroads haul all types of goods that we depend on, from grain for our food to the clothes that we wear.
Railroads also connect thousands of communities to the global economy by bringing American goods to ports where they are exported abroad.
For our country to remain competitive, freight railroads must deliver goods safely, reliably, and efficiently.
But there’s more to the story than just moving freight.
The freight rail industry employs more than 180,000 highly-skilled and well-paid professionals – nearly 25 percent of which are veterans.
Moving freight by rail also has other benefits like reduced highway congestion and cleaner air.
And, in many parts of the country, passenger rail service is provided over tracks owned and maintained by freight railroads.
While this hearing isn’t focused on passenger rail, it will also be an important issue for me this Congress – especially when it comes to the development of high-speed rail.
Simply put, freight railroads are fundamental to the American experience and our daily lives. Florida is a key example.
CSX alone operates more than 2,800 miles of track and employs over 5,000 people in Florida, while moving 1.1 million carloads of freight.
They are an integral part of Florida’s entire economy – serving 12 ports and thousands of businesses.
Despite freight rail’s great success story, we need to keep improving our system, and that’s why I’m pleased the Chairman called this hearing today.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the tonnage of freight moving by rail will increase by 88 percent through 2035.
To handle this future growth, we’ve got to start preparing and improving today. Some recent events highlight challenges we will have to overcome.
Over the past year, high demand and a harsh winter resulted in severe delays in several parts of the country.
Railroads responded by investing record amounts to expand capacity, buy new equipment, and hire more crew.
I look forward to hearing if our witnesses think the situation is improving and the prospects for 2015.
I also look forward to hearing about the industry’s progress on critical safety issues.
Rail is already one of the safest ways to move people and goods. The past two years for which data are available were the safest years on record. But challenges remain.
Implementing Positive Train Control to prevent collisions and enforce speed restrictions – first recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board in 1969 – will make an already safe industry even safer.
Despite the industry’s efforts, however, this year’s deadline for implementation will not be met, so we must create a workable path forward.
Another key safety issue we need to address is the shipment of crude oil by rail.
Finally, Florida and the nation cannot continue to grow unless we’re moving freight efficiently.
Achieving this goal will also require connecting rail to other ways of moving goods, especially our ports.
I hope the Commerce Committee will continue examining these challenges and the solutions our country needs.
I thank Chairman Thune for calling this hearing and all of the witnesses for being here today. I look forward to your testimony.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Frank LonegroVice President, Service DesignCSX Transportation
Mr. Dave BrownChief Operating OfficerGenesee & Wyoming Railroad Services
Mr. Bill JohnsonFormer Director of Port Miami and Former Chair of the Florida Ports Council
Ms. Michelle TeelMultimodal DirectorMissouri Department of Transportation
Mr. Chris JahnPresidentThe Fertilizer Institute