Rail industry seeks to put the brakes on heavier trucks

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The rail industry is seeking to put the brakes on proposal to increase the amount of weight that trucks can carry in a bid to protect cargo business that typically goes to trains. 

The inter-industry squabble has been spurred by an effort in Congress to increase a current limit of 80,000 pounds for cargo trucks to 91,000 pounds, which is the level being sought by the trucking industry. 

An Alexandria, Va.-based rail industry group known as GoRail said Monday that heavier trucks would be bad for the nation's roads and environment - in addition to affecting train companies' bottom lines. 

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"Increasing truck weight increases the pounding roads and bridges take from truck travel," the group said in a white paper. 

"The additional weight will wear out pavement quicker and add to bridge stress. U.S. roads and bridges are already in dire need of improvement," the rail group continued. "Why make things even worse?" 

Supporters of increasing the provision have argued that increasing the truck weight limit would increase the amount of cargo that can be shipped without requiring drivers to work extra hours. 

"The SAFE Trucking Act will help us safely move more of the things Americans want with fewer trucks taking up space on the road, and it is based on data to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks," Rep. Reid RibbleReid RibbleSanders-linked group endorses downballot Dems Super-PAC begins M effort to help House GOP Saving the Boomer's Social Security MORE (R-Wis.) said in a statement last week after introducing legislation to allow states to vote on increasing their own truck weight limits as a potential compromise is the standoff over the federal rules. 

"When we can increase efficiency, decrease traffic, and make everyone safer in the process, that is a win, and the SAFE Trucking Act is able to help us achieve all these objectives," he continued. 

The trucking industry has pushed to increase the weight limit for years, arguing that allowing heavier loads would maximize productivity among truck drivers. 

“Truck travel has grown 22 times faster than road capacity since the federal weight limit was last changed in 1982,” Coalition for Transportation Productivity Executive Director John Runyan said when Ribble's legislation was introduced. 

“Recognizing that more than 70 percent of freight must be shipped by truck, we need to confront the highway capacity crunch now if our country is to remain competitive," Runyan continued then. "The Safe Trucking Act safely improves the productivity of truck shipments so we can decrease the truckloads necessary to meet demand and make our entire transportation network more efficient.” 

The GoRail group countered that cargo that is too heavy to safely transport on roads is usually moved to markets on trains. 

"Subsidizing even bigger trucks would divert freight from rail, increase the cost of maintaining highways and bridges, create more highway gridlock and worsen air pollution," the group said. "Congress should reject proposals to allow heavier trucks."