U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Passenger and Freight Rail: The Current Status of the Rail Network and the Track Ahead,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 21. The hearing will examine the current state of the passenger and freight rail network, including impacts of COVID-19 and legislative considerations for surface transportation reauthorization.
Witness Panel 1:
- Mr. William Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Amtrak
- Mr. Paul Tuss, Executive Director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
Witness Panel 2:
- Mr. Frank Chirumbole, Vice President Global Supply Chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
- Mr. Randy Gordon, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Grain and Feed Association
- Mr. Kent Fountain, Chairman, National Cotton Council
- Mr. Ian Jefferies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads
- Mr. Dennis Pierce, President, Teamsters Rail Conference
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Hearing entitled “Passenger and Freight Rail: The Current Status of the Rail Network and the Track Ahead”
Witness Panel 1:
Mr. William Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Amtrak
Mr. Paul Tuss, Executive Director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
Witness Panel 2:
Mr. Frank Chirumbole, Vice President Global Supply Chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
Mr. Randy Gordon, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Grain and Feed Association
Mr. Kent Fountain, Chairman, National Cotton Council
Mr. Ian Jefferies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads
Mr. Dennis Pierce, President, Teamsters Rail Conference
October 21, 2020
Cantwell: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this important hearing, I really do appreciate it. We've had so much focus on the airline sector and what's happening with airlines, I feel like we should be giving the ample attention to our rail routes and the importance to our economy.
So thank you for both panels today to discuss both passenger and freight moving through, and I do want to join you in your prioritization of returning service to the Gulf Coast. I might not say the names just like you say them, New Orleans and Mobile, but I definitely believe that we should have reestablished route service there. As someone who sees the route service benefits in the Pacific Northwest I can tell you, it is part of an economy and we need to have it established.
So obviously we've been challenged by the COVID 19 pandemic and moving people and goods is what does keep our economy strong. In the state of Washington, the importance of passenger and freight infrastructure of getting people and products to market, connecting urban and rural, is really, really critical. In 2019, 14.8 million people worked in transportation and transportation related jobs--nearly 10% of the U.S. labor force. And throughout this pandemic, workers have continued to keep food on the table and get medical equipment to the hospitals of first responders, they have brought those first responders to the loved ones who've been affected by COVID-19, and they continue to keep our frontline workers in all sectors going strong with the services and supplies they need.
That is why I think it's so important for the Senate to take up legislation that would include relief for the transportation sector, both in help and support of this Amtrak we’re talking about today as well as the airlines. So I look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues on that.
Workers in rural communities across the country, including in my home state, will pay the price if we don't see this aid. Tens of thousands--obviously we've already talked about airlines--but Amtrak and transit shops--and when I think about these forced cuts to profitable routes or the best routes, leaving Americans stranded in transportation sectors, I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to analyze what support we need because these--restructuring are imminent. And we need to understand the consequences, so again, thank you for the hearing.
Our two long distance Amtrak lines, Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder, serve 15 communities, the majority of them small and rural communities. And in some areas, Amtrak is the only means of public transportation providing a direct line for economic success in rural communities and across the state. And I know our colleague Senator Tester, and I see our other colleague here, Senator Daines, that Mr. Tuss is going to testify from Montana—Well I remember being in Glacier National Park in the—I’m a big outdoor person, and definitely sitting there in our National Park hotel there and all of a sudden, here comes all these people. And I'm like, “where are these people coming from? Oh, they just got off Amtrak.”
So, if you don't have Amtrak service to Glacier National Park, you're going to have a problem, and we obviously are in a pandemic but we don't want to see what just the Chairman's talking about, some incident that basically sets a course where service is curtailed, and then it takes you 15 years to get it reestablished. We don't want to see that. So I'm anxious to hear what we're going to do. If you asked me, I would be increasing service to all our national parks because I think it's such a great concept to get so many people—if you look at the European models, that's exactly what they're doing: taking people to the great outdoors in all sorts of ways, and Americans certainly would appreciate that.
More than 30% of the Amtrak workforce in Washington state is already facing furloughs. Thousands of more employees will see their jobs threatened and local economies across the country will lose billions if we don't get Amtrak support into one of our bills. It's vital that we get immediate aid to keep transportation companies afloat to have them significantly increase the investment in our national infrastructure. We all know that we need to do more there, but particularly in light of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on many state local economies.
I'm sure, Mr. Chairman, like my state, there's lots of discussions at home about what projects are going to get put on hold if we don't move forward with transportation dollars. So we need, in my opinion, to continue to invest heavily in rail crossing improvements that will reduce congestion and freight bottlenecks and improve efficiencies. We need to do more on the safety front. In addition, positive train control technology and strong safety culture means that we ensure trains and stations have appropriate staffing and the workforce is not being cut just in the name of efficiencies. And in the time of COVID, it means providing workers with personal protective equipment and taking common sense measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
So I want to make sure that we're—that the White House or anybody is not blocking the CDC from implementing measures that would help us create a stronger safety culture. My colleague from Florida joined us on a temperature check bill as it relates to the airline sector, as economies that greatly depend on transportation like Florida or the Pacific Northwest.
We want to build whatever infrastructure is needed on guidance from CDC and others to improve the traveling public's safety, during the COVID pandemic and in the future.
So with that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from our colleagues and again thank you for holding this very important hearing. And we look forward to asking witnesses on both panels questions. Thank you.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. William FlynnPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAmtrak
Mr. Paul TussExecutive Director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and MemberMontana Economic Developers Association
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Frank ChirumboleVice President Global Supply ChainOlin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
Mr. Randy GordonPresident and Chief Executive OfficerNational Grain and Feed Association
Mr. Kent FountainChairmanNational Cotton Council
Mr. Ian JefferiesPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAssociation of American Railroads
Mr. Dennis PiercePresidentTeamsters Rail Conference