Legislative Update August 2009

Railroad Antitrust Legislation

H.R. 233, The Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009, was approved on July 30 by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy. This is the companion legislation to S.146, which was withdrawn from consideration by the Senate on June 1, and which Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) plan to work on together in order to craft comprehensive reform of the Surface Transportation Board.

H.R. 233 would amend a 1914 antitrust law to remove the exemption for railroads. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) proposed an amendment to the bill to clarify that the measure would not apply retroactively to any previously approved mergers or acquisitions, and that amendment was adopted by voice vote before the legislation was approved.

The BLET has opposed the repeal of the antitrust provisions and instead supports comprehensive reform of the Surface Transportation Board.

Transportation Funding

The House passed FY 2010 Appropriations legislation (H.R. 3220) for the Department of Transportation on July 24. The bill contains $4 billion for high speed rail (a $3 billion increase over President Obama’s request). In total, the bill would provide $75.8 billion for the Department of Transportation, including $1.5 billion for Amtrak. The FRA was appropriated $172,533,000 for safety and operations, and $34,145,000 for railroad research and development. The NTSB was appropriated $99,200,000 for its salaries and expenses.

In the Senate, a $122 billion spending bill for FY 2010 transportation programs was approved by the Appropriations Committee on July 31. This legislation, which funds the Transportation Dept. and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, would provide $67.7 billion in discretionary spending, compared with $68.8 billion in the version passed by the House. The two chambers will need to come to a compromise on high-speed rail when the bill goes to conference. The Senate bill would provide $1.2 billion for high-speed rail, which is in line with President Obama’s requested level, while the House version would provide $4 billion for high-speed rail grants. The President has commended the House for including the extra funding. The FRA would receive a total of $3 billion under the Senate legislation, including the money for high-speed rail.

The FRA has already received 278 pre-applications for grant funding of high-speed rail projects, totaling $102 billion. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sees this as a sign that the country is ready for high-speed rail.

Congratulations to Deborah Hersman as new NTSB Chairman

Deborah A.P. Hersman was sworn in on July 28 as the Chairman of the National

Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB conducts comprehensive investigations of transportation accidents. Ms. Hersman has been a member of the Board for five years and has been the Board Member on scene at 16 major transportation accidents, including the disastrous freight train collision and hazmat spill in Graniteville, S.C., in 2009, that killed nine people, as well as the recent collision between two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains that resulted in nine fatalities.