Federal officials won’t allow freight railroads to be hurt by government investment in high-speed passenger rail infrastructure, Federal Rail Administrator Joseph Szabo said Wednesday.
“Let me state for the record that we’re simply not going to allow that to happen,” Szabo said in a speech at the RailTrends conference in New York. “One of our fundamental and core principles is that we’ve got to ensure preservation and improvement of what already is our world-class freight rail system.”
He said high-speed passenger rail will co-exist with freight. “It’s not a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking from one for the other. It’s a matter of raising the performance of both through public infrastructure investment.”
By The Numbers: U.S. Rail Cargo.
Szabo said the Department of Transportation is “slightly ahead of schedule” in approving grants from the $8 billion fund that last year’s economic stimulus act established for intercity passenger and high speed rail projects.
Spending under the program has been slow to get started. Under the program, railroads must agree on terms with states, and the agreements then must be approved by the Federal Railroad Adminstration.
Szabo said the “tone and tenor” of negotiations on the grant agreements has improved in recent weeks. “I think we’re going to be able to close out the rest of these agreements in the next 30 to 60 days, certainly by the end of the year,” he said.
Chuck Baker, a partner at Chambers, Cowlin & Hartwell in Washington and president of the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association, told the RailTrends conference he agreed that the pace of discussion on the agreements has picked up.
However, Baker questioned whether all of the agreements can be negotiated by year-end. “That would be a tremendous victory… but these are not easy and I would certainly be surprised if they all were done by the end of the year,” he said.
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