Posts Tagged ‘Biden administration’

STB Head Wants More Rail Competition

July 14, 2021

Class 1 Railroads got an ear full on Tuesday from U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman who suggested the carriers are shirking their obligations as common carriers due to pressure from Wall Street investors.

Speaking to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers, Oberman called for more competition in the industry and is in agreement with an executive order issued last week by President Joseph Biden directing federal agencies to limit the dominance of large corporations.

 “There are just many, many parts of the country . . . where there’s just not real effective competition among rail carriers,” Oberman said.

In regards to railroads, the STB head said he sees a less robust freight rail system due to job cuts related to the implementation of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

Oberman also said that some commodities moved by rail have suffered due to Wall Street pressure for ever-lower operating ratios.

“While everybody applauds efficiency — and I do — I am concerned that we may well have stripped our resources down too far to keep our national rail network as healthy as it needs to be to rebuild the economy,” Oberman said.

He acknowledged that railroad did well in moving traffic as the economy rebounded from a recession last spring triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oberman and other STB members will be weighing these and other concerns in upcoming merger cases involving Canadian National acquiring Kansas City Southern, CSX buying Pan Am Railways, and a bid by Watco to buy CN’s former Wisconsin Central branch lines in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads also are on the docket in a pair of cases, including involving Federal Railroad Administration mandated on-time performance standards.

Task Force to Study Supply Chain Issues

June 9, 2021

The Biden administration said on Tuesday it will create a task force and take other steps to address supply-chain challenges to the nation’s economic recovery.

The task force will focus on areas where shortages of supply have been noted, including home building and construction, semiconductors, transportation, and agriculture and food.

Creation of the task force is in response to a 100-day review of critical U.S. supply chains that began in February.

The review examined semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging; large capacity batteries, like those for electric vehicles; critical minerals and materials; and pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Biden Budget Proposal Boosts Amtrak Spending 35%

May 30, 2021

Amtrak would get a 35 percent boost, most of it for capital projects, if Congress adopts the Biden administration budget.

The administration has proposed $2.7 billion for Amtrak with a major share of that funding set to be used for track and station improvements, fleet refreshment, and systemwide maintenance. Another $625 million would create a new grant program, Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion, to develop and expand rail corridors across the nation.

The U.S Department of Transportation would receive $88 billion in total.

This includes $13.5 billion for transit projects of which $2.5 billion is for Capital Investment Grants, a $459 million increase, to accelerate projects already in process and support new projects seeking approval.

Another $550 million would go toward Transit Infrastructure Grants of which $250 million is for the Zero Emission Bus Program.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program would receive $1 billion in funding.

GOP Senators Release Own Infrastructure Plan

April 24, 2021

A number of Republican members of the U.S. Senate have unveiled their own five-year $568 billion infrastructure plan.

It is a counter to a $2.3 trillion plan laid out by President Joseph Biden dubbed the American Jobs Plan.

The GOP senators said their proposal would be more narrow than the Biden plan and focus more on what they termed core physical infrastructure.

Funding allocations in the GOP plan include roads and bridges ($299 billion); public transit systems ($61 billion); freight and passenger rail ($20 billion); water and wastewater ($35 billion); ports and inland waterways ($17 billion); broadband ($65 billion); airports ($44 billion); and water storage ($14 billion); and safety ($13 billion).

The plan would impose user fees on electric vehicles and repurpose some unused federal spending allocated by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Congress approved in March.

In a news release, the GOP senators said their plan is expected to be a framework for developing bipartisan bills that Congress could pass.

Biden Proposes $25.6B USDOT Budget

April 14, 2021

The Biden administration has proposed a $25.6 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation for federal fiscal year 2022.

That would be an increase of $317 million, or 1.3 percent, over what Congress enacted for FY 2021.

The Office of Management and Budget said that figure is “only a fraction” of the DOT’s “total budgetary resources.”

OMB said most DOT’s financial assistance to states, localities and transportation authorities is provided through mandatory funding derived from the Highway Trust Fund, as part of multiyear surface transportation authorizations.

The administration has proposed that Congress approve $625 million for a new passenger rail competitive grant program, $375 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants, $2.7 billion for Amtrak, $2.5 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, and $250 million for grants for transit agencies to purchase low- and no-emission buses.

The later combined with the assumed $55 million of contract authority of the FAST Act, would provide $305 million for the Low or No Emission Grant Program.

The budget also proposes $110 million to establish a “Thriving Communities Initiative Pilot,” which would provide “funding for grants and technical assistance to communities” and “serve as a down-payment on advancing transportation equity.”

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Develop grant program would receive $1 billion.

Fernandez Nominated to Lead FTA

April 14, 2021

Nuria Fernandez has been nominated by the Biden administration to serve as administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

She has served as deputy administrator since Jan. 20. Previously Fernandez was general manager and chief executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in California.

Fernandez also has served as chief operating officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, as senior vice president of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority, and worked at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

She is past chair of the American Public Transit Authority and has served on the boards of the Mineta Transportation Institute and The Transportation Learning Center.

Biden Administration Releases Rail Funding Details

April 12, 2021

The Biden administration has released further information about how money it has proposed to spend on transportation infrastructure will be allocated in his American Jobs Plan.

The plan has earmarked $571 billion in transportation funding including $80 billion for intercity rail passenger service.

The Rail Passengers Association said that funding would be broken down to $39 billion to modernize the Northeast Corridor; $16 billion for Amtrak’s national network; $20 billion for intercity passenger grants; and $5 billion for freight rail and safety grants.

Mass transit would receive $85 billion proposal to be divided by $55 billion for returning existing public transportation systems to a state of good repair; $25 billion to expand transit systems; and $5 billion dedicated to helping implement the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

RPA said that aside from the Northeast Corridor funding, it is not clear how the other funding for passenger rail would be used.

However, the passenger advocacy group said that taking into account White House statements on the matter none of the funding is expected to be used for existing operating costs.

It would instead be used to replace existing rail cars, upgrade existing corridors with additional trains operating at higher speeds, and launching new corridors to cities without service.

RPA said the recently released Amtrak 2035 vision map is not part of the Biden administration plan but does give an indication of what new routes might be developed.

The Biden administration also indicated it will seek $25.6 billion in discretionary transportation funding during the fiscal year 2022 federal budget. That would be a 3.2 percent increase compared with FY 2021.

Amtrak would receive $2.7 billion, a 35 percent increase, while $625 million would be set aside for a new intercity passenger rail grant program.

Biden Plan Would Accelerate Coal Decline

April 5, 2021

The Biden administration’s proposals to fight climate change would accelerate what has already been a downward decline of the use of coal for generating electricity.

That would further depress railroad coal traffic, industry observers say.

Rob Godby, an economics professor who is deputy director of the University of Wyoming’s Center for Energy Regulation and Policy, said the Biden proposals would accelerate the decline of coal that has been under way for a decade.

During the past 10 years, railroads have seen their coal traffic fall but “black diamonds” still remained a substantial source of revenue.

In 2020, coal was 12 percent of rail freight volume in the United States, figures from the Association of American Railroads show.

Coal was the single largest commodity that Class 1 railroads carried in 2020 and provided $7 billion in revenue.

Yet the use of coal to generate electricy has fallen from 48 percent of the nation’s power supply in 2008 to less than 20 percent last year.

Most coal mined in the United States is used to generate electricity but is also used in steel making and exported to other nations.

Biden has proposed using tax incentives for renewable energy for another decade while making power grid investments to support greater use of wind and solar power.

Godby said those changes, if implemented, will make it difficult for coal to compete on an economic basis with natural gas and renewable sources of energy.

“The bottom line is if this were to happen, you could say the Powder River Basin would almost entirely be shut down,” Godby said referencing a region in Wyoming and Montana served by BNSF and Union Pacific that produces nearly half of U.S. coal.

Godby said some renewable energy projects provide electricity more cheaply than coal, even without subsidies.

Transportation costs can take up three quarters of the delivered cost of coal to a power plant.

Even if Congress were to reject the Biden plan, Godby said coal is living on borrowed time and he expects demand for it to be a shadow of itself by 2035 when very little of the nation’s power will be generated by burning coal.

Already, coal producers are seeking to sell or shut down mines in the Powder River Basin. Arch Resources plans to close the Coal Creek mine in Wyoming in 2022 and reduce production at Black Thunder Mine, the second-largest U.S. coal mine.

The Biden infrastructure plan has proposed establishing as many as 10 power plant carbon capture demonstration projects.

But Godby said for those to be commercially viable, carbon capture would require technology and cost breakthroughs as well as the development of markets for carbon dioxide use.

Biden Outlines $2T Infrastructure Plan

April 1, 2021

The Biden administration on Tuesday released the broad outline of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that includes $621 billion for transportation infrastructure.

The proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, would allocate $85 billion for public transportation and $80 billion for passenger and freight rail.

“The American Jobs Plan will build new rail corridors and transit lines—easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that become connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts where a lot of jobs are these days,” President Joseph Biden said during a speech at a carpenters training facility in Pittsburgh.

“You and your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas onboard a high-speed train,” Biden said.

The plan must win approval of Congress, where it already faces Republican opposition.

Various news reports have said Democrats might use the budget reconciliation process to push it through the Senate just as they did earlier this year with a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief bill that Biden later signed into law.

The Biden plan would boost infrastructure spending over an eight year period.

The proposal triggered positive remarks from many transportation trade associations although the Association of American Railroads was more measured in its support.

The Rail Passengers Association in particular touted the Biden plan for its potential to pay for new rail cars, new corridors, new city pairs and more frequencies on Amtrak’s national network.

RPA characterized the plan as representing a 400 percent boost in intercity passenger rail funding.

American Public Transportation Association CEO Paul P. Skoutelas described the Biden plan as a “forward-thinking investment.”

He said it will enable communities to meet growing mobility demands, create family-wage jobs, expand U.S. manufacturing and supply chains, and grow the economy.”

An AAR statement expressed concerns about how the Biden plan would be funded. Biden has proposed raising taxes on corporations.

Instead, the AAR reiterated its call for a vehicle miles traveled fee that would charge trucks based on weight or axle count and impose an emissions surcharge to fund passenger rail.

AAR did indicate support for what it termed making much-needed investments to restore highways, bridges and roads, and improve ports.

American Short Line and Regional Rail Association President Chuck Baker said his group applauds the Biden proposal overall, saying that short lines railroads “are a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure.”

Biden Administration Infrastructure Priorities to be Aired

March 22, 2021

The Biden administration will discuss its transportation infrastructure priorities during a hearing on March 25 of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to address the committee.

The session will be livestreamed on the committee’s YouTube page.