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(Source: Progressive Railroading 06/23/2020)

Two rail supplier groups last week announced mixed reactions to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s (T&I) multiyear surface transportation legislation known as the INVEST in America Act.

Both the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) and the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association (NRC) expressed support for the committee taking up a surface transportation package, especially with the current legislation — known as the FAST Act — set to expire Sept. 30.

A day prior to the bill’s full markup on June 17, RSI President Mike O’Malley said his group is pleased that the legislation calls for billions of dollars to be invested in passenger- and freight-rail projects.

“These funding streams would go a long way toward helping the economy rebound from the adverse effects of COVID-19, while creating lasting infrastructure and preserving manufacturing jobs in the rail industry,” O’Malley said in a press release.

However, O’Malley also lamented the lack of bipartisan support for long-term surface transportation legislation.

“Every major infrastructure package in recent memory has moved in a bipartisan fashion, and we would encourage leaders of both parties to continue that tradition,” he said.

Although the bill contains provisions that are beneficial to the rail industry, it also includes a number of “problematic challenges” that will hurt the bill’s chance of passage.

“Examples include a mandate on two-person crews, train length limits, restrictions on movement of [liquefied natural gas] by rail and new mandates tied to air brakes,” said O’Malley. “In each of these cases, such changes should be considered through the regulatory process where they can be thoroughly vetted with detailed public and industry input.”

Last week, the T&I Committee — after a two-day markup session — passed the legislation out of committee along partisan lines.

Meanwhile, NRC officials said they have “major concerns” about the bill. For example, the group is concerned labor provisions that would legislate a permanent mandate for certain types of rail-related work to be performed exclusively in-house, and that contracting out could be performed only under certain collective bargaining agreements, NRC officials said in a press release.

Such provisions would increase costs, reduce flexibility and make it harder to expand rail service, they said.

Additionally, the NRC shares freight railroad leaders’ concerns over provisions in the bill that industry officials believe would “create an unfriendly business environment and add new unnecessary requirements for the rail industry during an already challenging time,” said NRC officials.

At the same time, the NRC is “encouraged” by the funding levels in the bill, particularly the $60 billion rail title, they added.

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