Railroads push for inclusion in Trump infrastructure plan

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A trade group representing major freight railroads and Amtrak is urging President-elect Donald Trump to include the rail industry in any infrastructure proposals.

{mosads}In a letter to the transition team on Monday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) called for a number of specific policy reforms that affect the freight rail industry.

“A critical component of our national infrastructure is the freight rail industry, which generated $274 billion in economic activity in 2014 while supporting almost 1.5 million jobs throughout the country,” wrote Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the AAR. “As the transition team begins laying the groundwork for investing in other areas of our infrastructure, freight railroads can serve as an example of how smart investments can spur huge economic impacts.”

The AAR pressed the incoming Trump administration to ensure that the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is equipped with five members “who are committed to sound economic principles and understand that freight rail regulations impact the entire economy.”

The board is authorized to have up to five members — who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate — but the STB currently only has three members.

“Only when equipped with a full, five member board, should the STB proceed with major rule makings,” Hamberger wrote.

Second, the AAR called for an overhaul of the regulatory system, saying that rules should be based on sound data and only enacted when the benefits outweigh the costs. The group also asked the next administration to avoid overly prescriptive safety regulations and instead embrace a performance-based approach that leaves room for emerging technologies and innovation.

Finally, AAR urged Trump to create a sustainable funding source for the Highway Trust Fund, such as a weight distance fee. The group believes that any corporate tax reform in Congress should be paired with a deal for an infrastructure funding source.

Long-term funding solutions, however, have long evaded Washington. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in over 20 years, and the most recent five-year highway bill was paid for through what some have called a series of budgetary gimmicks.

“The tradition in which users of freight infrastructure pay for that infrastructure should not be broken, and a Trump Administration should seriously consider solutions such as a weight distance fee to establish a truly equitable system,” Hamberger wrote.

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