Activist rail shippers who want Congress to toughen freight rail oversight say a new Senate committee study of rail finances should make lawmakers leery of endorsing President Obama's plans for more rail infrastructure spending.
"Last week, President Obama asked for $50 billion dollars in new spending for transportation infrastructure, much of which would benefit the railroad industry. This report should make every member of Congress think twice," said Glenn English, chairman of Consumers United for Rail Equity.
CURE has been among the most aggressive groups lobbying Congress on behalf of some shipper industries to toughen regulation of rail service and pricing, especially for customers that pay higher "captive" freight rates for being stuck with access to one major railroad.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee issued a report that tracked the strength of rail finances and compared them with industry pleadings before regulators that railroads need to increase revenue to cover their infrastructure investment needs. It released the study just before a hearing on "the federal role in national rail policy," and the report triggered a sharp rebuke from the Association of American Railroads.
CURE told its members that the study "showed examples of how the railroads paint a bleak picture of their finances to help stall efforts at rail reform, yet tout strong profits and robust growth to investors."
English previously tried to link federal spending on rail projects to putting shipper-favored changes in place to give customers more competitive access to rail service and make it easier for shippers to litigate their rate complaints with regulators. He repeated that view after seeing the Senate report, saying lawmakers "need to pass meaningful rail reform legislation that would protect consumers from the railroads' monopoly pricing power."
Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., made the same linkage during the Sept. 15 hearing.
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