A potential dispute between the Obama Administration and House leaders could affect the timing of up to $450 billion in surface transportation funding sought for the next six fiscal years, beginning Oct. 1. SAFETEA-LU, which expires Sept. 30, provided $286.4 billion over a four-year period.
The administration seeks an 18-month extension of current surface transport funding, expressing doubts that a comprehensive six-year package can be achieved by the next fiscal year to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, expected to be depleted by August.
But Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (pictured at left), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Calif.) argue that the House measure, unveiled Thursday, would expedite funds to states by simplifying regulatory procedures, while creating more accountability for how states spend their federal funds. DeFazio says the accountability would allow cities to mix and match road and transit projects, fostering modal coordination now lacking in federal transport policy.
House Republicans also seek to expedite the funding procedure. "Many important projects do not break ground for several years, tying up limited federal resources while project sponsors navigate the complicated maze that is the federal approval process," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said in a written statement.
Oberstar said the Department of Transportation would reduce its oversight of 108 different categories for federal funding to four major funding formula programs. As for rail specifics, the bill would set aside $50 billion for high speed rail purposes and $99.8 billion for transit.
Nicholasville, Ky.-based R.J. Corman Railroad Group, LLC Thursday announced it had finalized its acquisitionof Railpower Technologies Corp., based in Brossard, Quebec, and its wholly owned U.S. subsidiary Railpower Hybrid Technologies, based in Erie, Pa.
“We are pleased and honored to beable to continue the development and production of the Railpower Gen-Setlocomotives for the railroad industry,” said owner Rick Corman in a statement. “The combination of the R.J. Corman Railroad Group service orientation and the demonstrated technical leadership of the Railpower team will result in Gen-Set locomotives being designed and built by a company that operates railroads.”
“With the state-of-the-art technology on board the Railpower Gen-Set locomotives, we are excited about buildingthem for the future and appreciate all the support we received during theacquisition process,” said Bruce Greinke, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Railpower, LLC.
Railroaders looking for even the slightest signs of a recovery got just that Thursday. In its latest weekly report, the Association of American Railroads announced that traffic on U.S. railroads in the week ended June 13 "continued to show signs of gradual improvement."
"Rail carloadings and intermodal were up from the previous week with carloads at their highest level in 10 weeks. While traffic showed signs of improvement from the previous week, compared year-over-year traffic remains down," said the association.
Carload traffic totaled 261,956 cars, up 0.6% from the previous week this year, but down 19% from the same week in 2008. Intermodal volume totaled 189,508 trailers or containers, up 0.4% from the previous week but down 17% from last year.
Total U.S. volume for the latest week was estimated at 27.7 billion ton-miles, down 17.8 % from the same week last year.
Eighteen of 19 commodity groups were down from 2008, with declines ranging from 5.5% for coal to 61.4% for metals and products. The only group showing an increase was farm products other than grain, up 4.8%.
Canadian railroads reported volume of 56,978 carloads for the week, down 26.6% from last year, and 39,081 trailers or containers, down 18.8 %. Mexico's two major railroads originated 12,441 carloads, down 14.4% from last year's twenty-third week, and 4,762 trailers or containers, off 29.0%.
Total North American roll volume for the first 23 weeks of 2009 on 14 reporting railroads included 7,677,555 carloads, down 20.2% from last year, and 5,307,734 trailers and containers, down 16.7%.
Maryland’s proposed $1.68 billion, 16-mile light rail transit Purple Line has been endorsed unanimously by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, bolstering the line’s advance ahead of two area highway projects also under consideration. The line would connect New Carrollton with Bethesda, serving as both a suburban connector and a circumferential feeder to Washington, D.C.’s Metro subway system.
The board also approved adding rail right-of-way west of Bethesda to Silver Spring, Md., to the long-range plan for the line, which would add $480 million to the project but which is anticipated to bolster chances for federal funding support.
Officials in Maryland's Prince George’s and Montgomery counties already have approved the plan, which is expected to carry 62,500 riders per weekday. The line would include four transfer points with the Metro system, as well as transfer points for MARC and Amtrak rail services.
The project has yet to be officially approved as light rail by the state. The governor’s office is expected to weigh in later this summer. Besides LRT, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) option had been considered. The project also has faced environmental opposition in Montgomery County.