Commerce Hearing Addresses Transpo Network Performance Issues

February 4, 2015

Last week on January 29, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security convened a hearing titled, Improving the Performance of our Transportation Networks: Stakeholder Perspective. The hearing featured prominent members of the freight community, including Jim Mullen of Werner Enterprises (and member of ATA), Lance Fritz of Union Pacific Railroad (a class I freight railroad), Douglas Means of Cabela’s outdoor products chain, and the former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell of Building America’s Future.

Like all private sector transportation interests, the freight community has two primary concerns: rolling back overly prescriptive regulations and increasing investment in relevant infrastructure. Specifically, regulations that have received a fair amount of push-back recently include the “restart rule,” which mandated that drivers have at least 34 consecutive hours off each week (which was consequently suspended in the CROmnibus in December). Another hot-button regulation concern has been the Positive Train Control (PTC) requirement, which mandates that trains equip with a technology that automatically stops or slows a train before an accident can occur. The PTC mandate was introduced in 2008 and aims to have full deployment by the end of this year (a goal that is unlikely to be reached).

On the funding side of the equation, while MAP-21 took some strides to introduce a national freight policy, there is no grant-in-aid program providing financial resources specifically for freight. There are, however, programs that do, in part, support freight corridors, such as TIFIA, TIGER, or even investments in the national highway system.

In their testimonies, the industry stakeholders (Mullen, Fritz, and Means) primarily focused on specific regulatory challenges that their companies faced. Witnesses discussed the challenges with the restart rule and the PTC mandate, as well as a number of other regulatory hurdles. These included the use of FMCSA’s crash data (which often includes crashes that are not the fault of the driver). The general consensus was, to quote Lance Fritz of UP, “[we] want to make sure that legislation and regulations do not get in the way of technology becoming safer and more efficient.”

Gov. Rendell focused in on funding and the challenges associated with the depleted Highway Trust Fund, and reminded the committee members of the stagnant tax. In the Question and Answer section, Mullen of Werner Enterprises mentioned, “the gas tax increase, although not that attractive, is the best solution as far as we are concerned.” Fritz of Union Pacific, on the other hand, noted that because freight companies are private and can invest in infrastructure separate from government, that it was unnecessary to raise taxes to improve railroad conditions.

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