Perseverance, the Short Line Hallmark

Written by Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA
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Perseverance is a virtue, and 2020 required all the perseverance one could muster. The pandemic, the disruption of the workplace and of ordinary commerce, trade disputes, our unsettled politics—all contributed to a year that affected every American citizen and business.

Perseverance has been the hallmark of the short line industry, and as difficult as 2020 was for our industry, it was the year that perseverance paid off on our top legislative priority. After nearly two decades of hard work, 45G, the short line rehabilitation tax credit was made permanent. 

Our first tax credit legislation, introduced in 2003 and passed in 2004, was extended seven times before being made permanent by the 116th Congress. During that 17-year period, short line railroaders conducted more than 1,000 meetings per year with Members of Congress and amassed more than 2,100 House and 389 Senate co-sponsors over 8 bills. We organized a customer coalition, Saving our Service, that secured more than 1,000 shippers who publicly supported our legislation in the media and through meetings with their elected officials. We organized the first Railroad Day on the Hill, and with the help of the entire railroad industry turned it into one of the largest and most successful lobbying events in Washington D.C. We ended this marathon race in the most uniquely troubled year imaginable.

While this space does not allow us to name the many Congresspeople that made success possible, there are some that persevered with us from the beginning and without whom we would not have succeeded. Senator Moran (R-Kan.), then a Member of the House, was the original sponsor of the 2003 legislation. Rep. Camp (R-Mich.) was the first Member of the House tax writing committee to sponsor the bill. Our chief Congressional sponsors at the end, Reps. Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sens. Crapo (R-Idaho) and Wyden (D-Ore.) were there from or near the beginning and never wavered in their support. The Chairmen of the tax writing committees, Sen. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Neal (D-Mass.) played key roles in pulling 45G over the finish line. 

Each of these members and many more took the time to learn about the needs of our industry and the importance of track rehabilitation to our shippers. They were our Congressional missionaries, and they never missed an opportunity to proselytize on our behalf. 

Likewise, their staffs gave generously of their time and talents. They helped us communicate effectively with their bosses. They facilitated our thousands of Congressional meetings in Washington D.C. and in their Districts when travel was possible, and then in the virtual world when it was not. Perhaps most important, they helped us navigate the treacherous terrain of the legislative process.

The 45G tax credit has and will continue to be one of the most important tools short lines have to make our infrastructure safer and more efficient for the huge areas of rural and small town America that we serve. For the perseverance of our Congressional allies, we are forever grateful. 

In the beginning, ASLRRA created a Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) to focus our time and resources on our legislative agenda. Our current LPC Chairman, G&W’s Jerry Vest, reminds us, “While this was a tremendous accomplishment for short lines and the customers and communities that depend on us, we need now to quickly pivot to engage with the new President, his Administration and the new Congress.” 

We will work to ensure robust short line eligibility for grant programs such as CRISI, BUILD, INFRA and others included in future infrastructure/stimulus proposals. We will work to educate a whole new set of regulators about the impact of new regulations—their costs and their benefits, or lack thereof. We will seek a realistic balance between resources devoted to passenger transportation vs. freight transportation. We will work to do a much better job than we have done highlighting the significant environmental benefit of shipping by short line rail and the innovative work our companies are doing regarding fuel efficiency and adoption of new green technology. We will ensure our Short Line Safety Institute remains an effective contributor to workplace safety. We will strive to hold the line against any unwarranted truck size and weight increases.

Even before it becomes clear if there will be a “next 45G,” we will begin working with the new Administration and Congress to develop the relationships and trust that are the key ingredients of legislative and regulatory success. In that regard, we are well under way with planning our 2021 Railroad Day on the Hill. It will be held in April. The pandemic requires that it will be a virtual event, and we are exploring every avenue for making it as successful as past Railroad Days. Having already conducted several Congressional Zoom meetings since the election, we have found that they expose the Members of Congress to a much larger and varied audience of participants on the ground than might otherwise be able to leave their posts for travel to Washington D.C. 

The 1948 film The Naked City popularized an iconic American phrase intoned by the narrator at the end of the film—“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” So it was with the short line industry in 2020. We are but one of millions of stories of perseverance during a very difficult time. They are stories of individuals, families, organizations and businesses. Many were surely more harrowing than ours. Yet we remain proud of what we have accomplished, and we look forward with confidence to the industry’s progress in what we sincerely hope will be less troubled times.

Chuck Baker
Categories: Freight, M/W, News, Regulatory, Short Lines & Regionals, Switching & Terminal Tags: , , ,