Week ahead: Infrastructure and rail safety to dominate week

Lawmakers in the House will tackle infrastructure funding and rail safety issues in their return to Washington this week.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has scheduled hearings on a potential reauthorization of the surface transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September, as well as passenger and freight rail safety regulations.

The subjects have been in the news in recent weeks as transportation advocates have pushed for an increase in the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax that is normally used to pay for infrastructure improvements, and regulators have responded to a spate of freight rail accidents involving crude oil cargo shipments.

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to begin with a “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Roundtable” on Wednesday.

The roundtable is scheduled to include representatives from the American Trucking Associations; American Highway User Alliance; Transportation for America; Retail Industry Leaders Association; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; National Steel Bridge Alliance; National Association of Manufacturers and the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.

The rail safety hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, follows an announcement by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Association of American Railroads (AAR) on Friday that the freight rail industry is voluntarily agreeing to lower the speed limit for trains carrying crude oil and increase the frequency of track inspections.

The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile derailment of a train in December that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled in Casselton, N.D.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Cynthia Quarterman and AAR President Ed Hamberger are scheduled to testify before the panel.

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing about “improving the nation’s highway freight network” on Thursday.