Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 24, 2014

Posts in "Rail"

November 24, 2014

No Holiday Cheer In Ports Dispute

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The Port of Los Angeles (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s Christmas shopping season; do you know where your gift is in the supply chain?

For some people, gifts may be delayed by the congestion and long-running contract negotiations at West Coast ports.

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November 21, 2014

A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

166777582 445x279 A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

Container ships at the Maersk terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This week we asked whether the cancellation of a planned streetcar line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is perhaps a turning point for trendy transportation/urban development projects.

We heard in person from Bjorn Kjos, the head of Norwegian Air Shuttle who has set up an Ireland-based subsidiary to offer low-priced transatlantic service, a potential threat to legacy U.S. airlines such as United and Delta. Kjos is being stymied by Obama administration regulators.

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November 19, 2014

A Streetcar Setback in D.C. Suburbs

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Emergency responders take part in a drill on H Street Northeast in Washington. A new streetcar is in a test phase. (Photo Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The momentum to transform America’s cities with streetcars and light rail systems got a setback Tuesday when the Arlington County Board in the Washington, D.C. suburbs voted to cancel a planned $550 million streetcar system.

The decision followed the election on Nov. 4 of prominent streetcar opponent John Vihstadt, an independent, to a full term on the board, following his victory in a special election last spring.

The county board chairman, Jay Fisette, a Democrat, said that he and other streetcar proponents “were caught flat-footed” by the public opposition. Full story

Now Let’s Prep For The Next Keystone XL Vote

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. D-N.D., voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After the Senate fell one vote short of approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, vowed that another vote “will be an early item on the agenda in the next Congress.”

Since the Keystone XL issue will soon be back, note that even one of its most ardent supporters, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., doesn’t buy the argument made by Republican proponents that building it will ease freight railroad congestion.

Bakken crude oil is moved by rail from her state to refineries in other parts of the country, but has caused backups for shippers of other products.

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November 18, 2014

Freight Coalition Looks For Dedicated Revenue Stream

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Container terminal in the Port of Los Angeles (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A coalition of shippers, port authorities, retailers and other business groups is calling for a new revenue source to go solely to paying for large-scale infrastructure projects that would ease the movement of goods.

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition doesn’t have a unified position on what this new revenue source should be. But the Coalition will focus on the revenue issue as Congress begins to work on next year’s surface transportation bill.

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Amtrak Files Complaint Against Two Of Its Hosts

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A section of CSX rail line in Kentucky ((Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

Brisk business for the nation’s freight railroads and a rail infrastructure that can’t accommodate all who want to use it — combine those two factors and you get passengers on one Amtrak line late in arriving 97 percent of the time.

The on-time performance of Amtrak’s daily Capitol Limited service between Chicago and Washington, D.C. was 2.7 percent for the quarter which ended on Sept. 30, down from 33.6 percent the previous quarter.

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November 17, 2014

D.C. Streetcar Gives Congress Nearby Case Study

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The District of Columbia’s first modern streetcar line is still in a test phase (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Cruising very slowly with no passengers on board on its test runs up and down H Street Northeast in the nation’s capital, the Washington, D.C. streetcar gives members of Congress and think tank experts a local, real-world example, which could illuminate the national transportation debate.

In an editorial Monday, the Washington Post urged D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser to “bring focus and rationality to the project before proceeding with any expansion” beyond the initial 2.2 mile H Street line.


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Would Keystone XL Ease Rail Congestion?

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N. Dak., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., mke the case for the Keystone XL at a press conference in September. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada and Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Montana to a hub in Nebraska for delivery to Gulf Coast refineries. The House passed the bill on Friday.

The vote has election year resonance in the Louisiana Senate race, but for our purposes the pertinent question is: if the pipeline is built, what effect would it have on rail congestion in the northern Plains and Midwest?

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Q & A: Rep.-Elect Aguilar, Part Two

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Pete Aguilar, just elected to represent California’s 31st congressional district. (Photo By Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call)

Here are more excerpts from our conversation with Pete Aguilar, whom voters just elected in California’s 31st congressional district.

The California high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco has been a high-profile issue here in D.C. 

Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the railroads subcommittee, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California are both opposed to federal funding of it. Where do you stand on that?

I would have liked if they had started in more populated areas as they began the project…. When we have lines like the San Bernardino County line that has 12,000 people in it every day, I would have liked to have seen the population centers [included in the plan for high-speed rail]… That was a flaw that I saw in the project.

Would that line run anywhere near you?

It would not. Eventually in future segments, it may come into the city of Ontario.

Is Amazon building a big facility in your district?

They have three. They’ve opened two in the city of San Bernardino, these are distribution centers. And they have just open a third two months ago in the city of Redlands….

The Inland Empire is growing and expanding and I think that the fact that we were able to have Amazon come to our region shows that there is continued growth opportunity.

These are good paying jobs that have health care benefits and education reimbursement on Day One. Those are things that the Inland Empire needs and that’s why we’re so excited to have them.

Could you tell me about Ontario Airport?

Ontario Airport is a part of the Los Angeles World Airports; they own Burbank, Ontario, and LAX.

Many local governments have passed resolutions in support of local control, ensuring some local stakeholders are part of that process.

We have seen rapid declines of people traveling through Ontario airport and we want to make sure that that airport returns to what it should be, which means more non-stops, more activity: commuters, travelers, business people all getting where they need to be.

Ideally you’d like your constituents to be able to fly non-stop from Ontario to Chicago or from Ontario to New York?

Absolutely. We’d love expanded opportunity. Right now LA controls the gate fees and they control many of the things that would impede airline operators to come to the region. So we need to make sure there are local voices who con to advocate for improvements.

Coming Up This Week: Airbags, California’s Electric Vehicle Future, Freight Wish List

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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., will preside at a hearing Thursday on the Takata airbag recalls. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

As the lame duck session of Congress ponders how to pay for government operations after Dec. 11 when the continuing resolution expires, some members are looking ahead to the transportation policy choices they’ll have make in the new Congress.


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hears from Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, and other witnesses as it looks to its complex task of reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The current FAA authorization expires in September.

Also on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Freight Stakeholders Coalition will present its ideas on how next year’s surface transportation bill could help American manufacturing and U.S. workers’ productivity by financing freight rail projects.

The speakers include Robyn Boerstling, the director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, and Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities.


The R Street Institute, a Washington think tank whose mission is to “promote free markets and limited, effective government,” hosts a panel on how cities, including the nation’s capital, are regulating driver-for-hire services such as Lyft and Uber.

Chris Massey, director of government relations at Lyft and Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute will be among the speakers.

Last week the R Street Institute issued a report grading 50 of the largest U.S. cities on their friendliness to for-hire vehicle services.


The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on the Takata airbag defects and the vehicle recall process.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who’ll become ranking Democrat on the committee next year, will chair the hearing. Nelson has been one of several senators to voice his unhappiness with the performance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency which after 10 months still lacks a permanent head since President Obama hasn’t nominated one.

Two weeks ago. two members of the committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Takata.

The New York Times has reported that ex-employees of Takata said the company knew as far back as 2004 that some of its airbags were defective, but executives didn’t alert regulators.

Also on Thursday, from the land of Tesla, the California Institute for Federal Policy Research holds a briefing on Capitol Hill on the progress of electric vehicles in California and efforts by utilities to invest in infrastructure and support electric fleets.

Executives from PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric will brief and field questions.

November 14, 2014

A Look Back: Slow Down, New Yorkers, Road Salt & Girding For 114th Congress


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New York City drivers must adjust to a new 25 mile per hour speed limit. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This week we looked at New York City’s new 25 mile per hour speed limit. Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, said public attitudes toward speeding will need to change just as they did toward drunk driving in the past few decades.

A culture change is what’s needed since “Culture eats policy for breakfast,” she said.

Snow storms have hit parts of the country this week and we examined the cost increases that states and counties are facing for a commodity they need to keep highways open: salt.


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Transportation Unions Chart Strategy For New Congress

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Travelers at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Rosemont station. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Labor unions are adjusting to the new balance of power in Washington. The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, representing the workers who build, operate, and maintain highways and mass transit systems, is looking to work with the new Republican leadership in 2015 on a long-term surface transportation bill.

Transportation Trades Department president Ed Wytkind met Thursday with Sen. Tom Carper, D- Del., White House economic aide Byron Auguste, and Peter Rogoff, undersecretary of transportation for policy, to examine the agenda for the new Congress. Vice President Joe Biden stopped by the meeting as well.

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November 13, 2014

Maryland Survivor Is Back to Push for P3s

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Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., is a champion of public-private partnerships. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Elected in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote in a Maryland district, which the state legislature had gerrymandered for a Democrat, Rep. John Delaney barely survived last week’s election. He won by 2,269 votes and got less than 50 percent against Republican Dan Bongino and a Green candidate.

But Delaney will be back for a second term as perhaps the House’s most committed and articulate proponent of public-private infrastructure partnerships (P3s).

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November 12, 2014

Foes Sue To Block Capitol Rail Tunnel Project

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Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is one of the defendants in a suit filed in federal court against a Washington, D.C. rail tunnel project. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Building infrastructure takes a long time, sometimes even longer than long, due to the environmental impact statements required and the legal battles that opponents wage to block projects.

Case in point: on Wednesday a Washington, D.C. civic advocacy group called The Committee of 100 on The Federal City filed a lawsuit against Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and other officials seeking to stop CSX Transportation from expanding a 110-year old rail tunnel four blocks away from the Capitol building.

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November 11, 2014

Crumbling Infrastructure Creates Opening For Railroads

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A Union Pacific freight train in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In one sense, the deteriorating highway infrastructure that road builders and members of Congress complain about is good news for freight railroads.

In a presentation at the Stephens Fall Investment Conference in New York Tuesday, Rob Knight, the chief financial officer of Union Pacific, said the trucking industry “faces continued challenges from regulations, highway congestion, and a deteriorating infrastructure.”

One reason that highway infrastructure is deteriorating, of course, is that Congress and most states haven’t been willing or able to raise new revenue to fix and expand it.

By contrast, Knight said, rail traffic moves “over a right of way privately owned and maintained.”

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