Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure’

Infrastructure Plan Seen as $200B Federal Share

January 17, 2018

Early reports on the size of the infrastructure plan expected to be proposed by the Trump administration indicate that it will earmark $200 billion in federal spending which is well below the $1 trillion figure talked about earlier.

However, administration officials have been saying of late that they believe the federal investment will draw in state contributions and money from private investors that could boost infrastructure spending to $1 trillion.

The plan is expected to be release late this month or in early February.

The ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that will oversee the plan is already talking it down, saying it is far less than what the nation needs.

“I think most people understand if we want to have better roads, highways, bridges, trains  . . . we gotta pay for them,” said Tom Carper (D-Delware), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Carper also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that would authorize funding for the infrastructure bill.

Carper, who commutes on Amtrak to Washington, told Politico that he hopes Trump will propose a serious infrastructure proposal that will attract Democratic support.

The infrastructure plan might also allow for an expanded of charging tolls to help pay for the projects.

“I think the idea of using tolling for new road construction is probably a pretty good idea, and acceptable,” Carper said. “Especially now that we have the technology.”

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Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 11, 2018

Talks between members of the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration about the latter’s proposed infrastructure package were held this week on Capitol Hill, although few details of those discussions have been released.

Speaking for the administration was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was joined by other administration officials.

Although news media reports have said the infrastructure plan is expected to be $1 trillion, some recent reports have put the size of the package at a lower figure, perhaps no more than $200 million.

There has been speculation that the package will be rolled out in the coming weeks, probably after the state of the union address on Jan. 30.

Senator John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement that the meeting featured “a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities.”

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking minority party member of the committee, said in a statement that, “While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress.”

More than 150 national trade organizations, including some in the railroad and railroad supply industries, have urged Congress to approve an infrastructure investment package.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Trump Might Support 7-cent Gas Tax Hike

October 31, 2017

The Trump administration might seek an increase in the federal gasoline tax as a way of paying for a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.

That point was made by Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn during a private meeting with House lawmakers last week.

The proposed 7-cent increase would be used to fund public work projects, such as railways, roads, waterways and bridges.

Trump had said earlier this year during an interview with Bloomberg News that he was open to a gas tax increase. The last gasoline tax increase came in 1993.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said there is little interest in a gas tax hike now, but that committee members might support one if the White House gets involved and supports the increase.

Although the Trump infrastructure plan has received widespread attention, the administration has yet to reveal any hard details about it.

Some Doubt Private Investment Will Help Rails

October 7, 2017

Private sector investment in railroad projects is unlikely, a congressional committee was told this week.

The comments were made at hearing held by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on rail infrastructure on a proposed Trump administration infrastructure renewal plan.

The Trump plan would rely on private investment as well as public funding.

The witnesses at the hearing said that the federal and state governments can be expected to play a role in sustaining and expanding the nation’s rail network, but the private sector is unlikely to be much of a player when it comes to railroad investment.

“What you’re talking about clearly goes beyond what the private sector at this point is prepared to do,” said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads.

In particular, Hamberger referenced the capital needs of Amtrak. The carrier’s co-CEO, Charles “Wick” Moorman had told the committee that the critical, huge infrastructure projects that Amtrak faces will require federal investment.

Without that, Moorman said, the system runs out. “We can do a lot of work on state of good repair, we can improve the way we spend money, but it’s going to take a lot of federal investment,” he said.

“I think Mr. Moorman’s needs go far beyond what the private sector can do,” Hamberger said.

One news report said that Democrats on the subcommittee pushed for public funding of intrastructure projects while Republicans members remained silent about that.

Even President Trump has reportedly expressed doubt about the scope of the private sector’s role in infrastructure rebuilding.

Trump reported said during a closed meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee that public-private partnerships were not the solution for repairing the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

The Trump administration has been talking investing $200 billion in federal fund to leverage $800 billion of private investment. However, details about that plan have yet to be announced.

“I understand that the private sector has a role, the states have a role, but I think the federal government has to have a bigger role,” said U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. “Without the support of the federal government, I don’t think these projects can be done. Does anyone here believe that the private sector is the sole answer to this? If you do, please tell me, because I don’t believe this.”

Administration to Talk Infrastructure with DOTs

August 29, 2017

The Trump administration will meet this week with officials from state departments of transportation to discuss the administration’s ideas for infrastructure investment.

The invitation to participate said the event’s purpose “will be to underscore the need for a different approach, outline our draft guiding principles, and allow you all to brainstorm actions to help carry this conversation on the need for change and the opportunity to empower state and local leaders back to your states and communities.”

Attending the meeting will be Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and members of the President’s National Economic Council, and special assistant to the president for infrastructure D.J. Gribbin.

President Trump has proposed $200 billion of direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years, with the goal of using it to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment. However, the administration has yet to release a formal plan.

Infrastructure Council Terminated

August 21, 2017

The Trump Administration has dropped its plans to create an Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

The council was proposed to help provide guidance on spending for a multi-billion dollar program to improve roads, bridges and other public works.

Membership of the council would have included 15 members from real estate, finance, labor and other sectors.

Termination of the infrastructure council followed the disbanding of two other advisory groups to guide U.S. manufacturing and policies.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump has released a plan that is designed to alleviate the length of time it takes to get federal approval for projects. Trump issued an executive order that will:

  • Establish “one Federal decision” for major infrastructure projects to proceed.
  • Set a two-year goal for completing reviews.
  • Set up a “quarterly scorecard” to hold agencies accountable for delays.
  • Reduce duplicative requests for information and late-stage changes in the approval process.

Infrastructure Plan to be Released by Late May

May 19, 2017

Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao told a Senate committee this week that the Trump administration’s U.S. infrastructure revitalization plan will be released before the end of May.

However, Chao said in her testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that it will be fall before a more detailed plan is presented.  She said that will coincide with a congressional timetable.

“In the interim, obviously the president is very impatient, and he has asked that principles be released, so they should be coming out shortly,” Chao said.

She declined when pressed to provide any details other than to repeat earlier statement that the plan will be focused on using federal dollars to attract additional funding from state and local governments, and the private sector.

“The infrastructure proposal is being put together with a much greater view of principles,” Chao said. “Given the decentralized nature of our transportation infrastructure, there will be seeding of federal dollars that, hopefully, will leverage other monies from the private sector, state and local to $1 trillion.

“Federal funding often displaces state and local funds. We believe that the infrastructure needs are so great that all entities need to collaborate,” she said.

Some senators used the hearing to actively promote transportation projects in their states, ranging from transit capital funding to the Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project to the need to rebuild Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

Some senators also expressed concern about the future of DOT TIGER and FASTLANE competitive grant programs.

Chao acknowledged that TIGER grants were popular with Congress. A Trump fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint has proposed ending TIGER funding, but Chao said it could re-emerge in a different form.

“The thought was that going forward there be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and these TIGER grants would be recast some way in the future,” Chao said.