Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 22, 2014

Posts in "Rail"

December 19, 2014

Most Encouraging News Of 2014, Part Two

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Encouraging news: BNSF’s $6 billion capital investment program (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here’s our second selection of views from transportation advocates, analysts, and interest group representatives on the most encouraging or discouraging transportation developments of the past year….


“The Department of Transportation’s decision to move forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communication helps pave the way for the next generation of crash avoidance technology. The ability of vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and with the infrastructure around them is a promising step toward reducing the number of traffic and pedestrian fatalities, while also increasing the efficiency of our transportation system.”

Hilary Cain, director, Technology and Innovation Policy, Government and Industry Affairs, Toyota

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December 18, 2014

The Most Encouraging Transportation News Of 2014

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A man walks to catch the street car on Canal Street in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

To give a retrospective of the past year’s events and trends in transportation, we’ve asked a range of analysts, trade association leaders, and advocates to tell us what they think was the most encouraging, or most discouraging, transportation development, trend, or event of 2014.

Here’s the first installment from our respondents…. (and our thanks to all of them!)


“The most encouraging transportation trend in 2014 was voter rejection of several light-rail and streetcar lines. Elections in Florida, Texas, and Virginia showed that voters remain skeptical of putting large amounts of money into transit projects that yield trivial benefits.”

Randal O’Toole, Senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It

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December 17, 2014

Broken Water Main Highlights Infrastucture Weaknesses

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Construction workers repairing roads in DC. (CQ Roll Call)

Metrorail service in the nation’s capital was delayed Tuesday morning after a water main burst near 12th and F streets NW in downtown D.C. Service on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines was suspended between the L’Enfant Plaza and Farragut West stops while crews worked to repair damage.

The incident was another reminder of how one infrastructure system’s problems can have a domino effect on others.

Full story

Public Transportation Use Up A Bit In Third Quarter

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Commuters wait for the subway at the Fulton Center station in New York City (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Public transportation ridership was up by 1.8 percent in the third quarter of the year, compared to the same period in 2013, the American Public Transportation Association reported Wednesday.

“High and volatile gas prices have played a part over the past nine years in convincing people to try public transportation,” said APTA President Michael Melaniphy. “Now that gas prices are declining, many people are still choosing to ride public transportation. They have discovered that there are other benefits to taking public transit besides saving money.”

More than 2.7 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the third quarter, according to the APTA report.

But Census Bureau data indicate that only five percent of all Americans who commute to work use public transportation.

Full story

December 12, 2014

Week In Review: Drones, Macadamias, Bankruptcies

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An unmanned aerial vehicle arrives with a delivery at Deutsche Post headquarters in 2013 in Bonn, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

With the unmanned aerial vehicle industry in the United States trying to emerge from its infancy, members of the House pressed Federal Aviation Administration official Peggy Gilligan at a hearing Wednesday on why the agency seems so tardy in issuing a rule on small UAVs.

If FAA approves drones for commercial use, they’d enable farmers to monitor their crops and real estate agents to scan neighborhoods and sell houses. Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation said the FAA’s slowness is stifling innovation.

One member of the panel, libertarian-minded Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., also worried about whether drones will encroach on your backyard and violate your property rights.

Full story

December 10, 2014

North Dakota Gets Front Row Seat On Rail Stresses

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Scott Berreth, a derrick hand, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation outside Watford City, N.D. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

State lawmakers visiting Washington for the National Conference of State Legislatures Forum got a briefing Tuesday from a federal rail safety regulator and a representative of the oil industry on the issue of moving crude oil by rail.

Two-thirds of the crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region is being moved by rail. Bakken production is about one million barrels a day, accounting for about a quarter of U.S. production, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and could reach two million barrels a day by 2020.

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December 8, 2014

Amtrak Battles Freight Rail In Supreme Court

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View of the Supreme Court from the rooftop of the Capitol. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in a case about whether Amtrak can issue regulations that apply to the freight railroads with which it shares tracks.

Our colleague Todd Ruger reports (subscription required) that the court “appeared ready to derail a 2008 law meant to improve Amtrak’s passenger-rail service, as the justices considered whether Congress gave away too much of its regulatory power.”

Much of Monday’s oral arguments was focused on the issue of whether Amtrak is a private corporation or a federal agency.

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Drones, Planes, Oil By Trains, Spending Bill Remains

The safety of drones flying in airspace they share with planes, the safety of shipping oil by trains and little transportation nuggets tucked into the year-end spending bill are all on the agenda this week as lawmakers try to finish business for the 113th Congress.


With many legislatures beginning their sessions in January, state lawmakers will be in Washington to swap ideas and lobby members of Congress as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) holds its 2014 Forum this week.

A pressing issue facing state governments is the safety of rail shipment of crude oil and the congestion caused by North Dakota’s oil boom.

Full story

December 5, 2014

A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

458800648 445x301 A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

Commuters at the Times Square Subway stop in New York City. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Mass transit and van poll advocates have urged Congress to enact permanent tax break parity between those who get employer-provided parking benefits and those who use mass transit. That parity ended at the end of 2013.

Parity crusaders will need to wait until next year and try to persuade the new Congress.

  • We also heard from rail infrastructure advocates who want the new Congress to enact a dedicated source of funding.

To make their case, they point to the tangible achievements of President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus, such as the new Niantic River Bridge along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

  • Finding money for infrastructure, whether rail or highways or subways, is of course the seemingly permanent and inescapable problem, as a new report this week from the Eno Center for Transportation reminded us.

The report suggests that perhaps policymakers should simply decide that Congress is not going to increase the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and should consider relying on general tax revenue to pay for infrastructure.

The current system “is really not working well… for anybody. So there’s a much greater reason to consider alternative to the user pays/Trust Fund structure at this point,” said Eno president Joshua Schank.

  • We reported on the confirmation hearing for Mark Rosekind, Obama’s choice to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As the agency tries to cope with multiple auto and auto parts recalls, senators urged Rosekind to be bold in re-invigorating it.

“If you are not feared and respected, then you cannot do a good job policing the safety of automobiles in this country,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told Rosekind. “I don’t think that NHSTA is either feared or respected at this point.”

  • We also looked at the controversy over the cargo preference, which requires that a certain percentage of commodities purchased by the government be shipped in U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference is designed to preserve U.S. merchant marine jobs and the U.S. shipping industry.
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., pledged to stop a House-passed Coast Guard bill which they say would in effect strengthen the cargo preference and make it more costly for the Agency for International Development to ship food to countries affected by famine or food shortages.

December 4, 2014

Despite Price Drop, Crude-By-Rail Remains Big Issue

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The drop in the price of oil since OPEC failed in its meeting last week to agree on production cuts has sparked speculation about whether production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region will decline as some marginal drilling operations become financially less viable.

Some market observers see the drop in the price of railroad stocks since last week’s OPEC meeting as a harbinger of less Bakken crude being produced and less being moved by rail.

(The price of tank car manufacturer Greenbrier is down 20 percent since last Thursday’s market close.)

But whatever the price movements may indicate, crude-by-rail remains an urgent political issue.

Full story

December 2, 2014

With Stimulus Visible, Rail Searches For New Funds

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President Obama speaks to the Recovery Act Implementation Conference on March 12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Apart from the Affordable Care Act – whose fate has yet to be determined by the Supreme Court – and judicial appointments, perhaps the most durable and visible accomplishment of President Obama’s two terms will be long-lasting steel structures like the $154 million Niantic River Bridge project along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

It was finished in 2013 with $77 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and $77 million in Amtrak capital funds. It replaced a bridge built in 1907.

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Transit Tax Break Not The Real Deal, Advocates Say

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Commuters wait for a subway at a Manhattan station in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The House Ways and Means Committee tax extenders bill unveiled Monday would give mass transit commuters tax break parity with drivers who get employer-provided parking benefits, but only for 2014.

The bill revives the tax break parity that expired at the end of 2013, but falls far short of what mass transit advocates really want.

Full story

November 25, 2014

Amtrak Narrows Loss As Northeast Service Thrives

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Amtrak passengers check train information at New York’s Penn Station. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Amtrak is still losing money, but the good news is that it lost less money in Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in prior years.

In Amtrak’s FY2014 financial results released Tuesday, the railroad reported a net loss of $1.08 billion, compared to a net loss of $1.27 billion in FY2013.

The railroad’s revenues increased by eight percent over FY2013, partly on the strength of robust demand for its Washington-to-Boston services. The Northeast Corridor trains had 11.6 million passengers in FY2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year.

Full story

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.

Full story

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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