BMWE Journal

July/August 2003

As this JOURNAL went to press, there was a flurry of transportation legislation being introduced on Capital Hill. Portions of this legislation, if enacted into law, will provide much-needed public investment for Amtrak, high-speed passenger rail development, and a national rail infrastructure improvement program.

On June, 25, 2003 the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee approved H.R. 2572, authorizing a minimum of $2 billion annually over the next three years for Amtrak. By adopting a multi-year reauthorization for Amtrak, the T & I Committee unequivocally recognized Amtrak as a vital part of our nation's transportation infrastructure. Multi-year Amtrak funding, which has been at the top of BMWE's legislative agenda and a focus of our lobbying efforts on Capital Hill for many years, will provide funding for long-overdue improvements to the track, bridges, and infrastructure of the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor.

The Northeast Corridor is where Amtrak's high-speed Acela service debuted last year in daily runs between Washington, DC and Boston, MA. Amtrak's Acela is capable of operating at speeds of up to 150 MPH. However, due to the lack of adequate funding for Amtrak virtually since its creation, the condition of the existing track and catenary infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor cannot fully support high-speed operations. As a result, the Acela only achieves its maximum 150 MPH operating speed over very short segments of the nearly 500 mile route. Multi-year funding for Amtrak at 2 billion per year will provide the kind of infrastructure improvements necessary to allow Amtrak's Acela to achieve its full potential as a safe, efficient, and viable alternative to highway and airline gridlock along the congested Northeast Corridor.

This recent legislative action by the T & I Committee represents a conscious decision to invest in Amtrak and allow it to succeed. It also is a welcome recognition that high-speed passenger service in the Northeast Corridor, or anywhere else for that matter, can not exist without government subsidy and support similar to the funding provided to highway and aviation trust funds. This badly-needed influx of funds will allow upgrading of the Northeast Corridor to support true high-speed passenger rail service between Washington and Boston. If enacted into law, H.R. 2572 will provide stability to BMWE members employed in the Corridor and should also remove some of the financial uncertainty that has held up collective bargaining for our long-suffering Amtrak members. BMWE's Amtrak members have been working without a new contract since 1999.

On June 25, the T & I Committee also approved H.R. 2571, the massive Railroad Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act of the 21st Century (RIDE-21). RIDE-21, if signed into law, will provide up to $60 billion for the development of new high-speed rail corridors and other railroad infrastructure needs. This legislation was jointly introduced by T & I Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), Ranking T & I Committee Democrat James Oberstar (D-MN), Subcommittee on Railroads Chairman Jack Quinn (R-NY) and Ranking Subcommittee Democrat Corrine Brown (D-FL).

Representative Quinn, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, stated: "This legislation has been carefully crafted to preserve the rights of rail workers under existing collective bargaining agreements. But more importantly, RIDE-21 will provide thousands of new jobs as high-speed rail expands across the nation. The roughly $60 billion provided in this bill is the first serious money to be dedicated to a major, long-term infrastructure program on a truly national scope." In addition to creating new jobs directly related to the construction and operation of new high-speed rail systems, it is estimated that for every $1 billion spent on such projects, an additional 40,000 new jobs will be created for the economy.

Among other provisions, the RIDE-21 bill establishes authority for states or interstate compacts to issue $12 billion in federally tax-exempt bonds and $12 billion in federal tax-credit bonds for infrastructure improvement for high-speed passenger rail systems. The legislation also reauthorizes and modifies the existing Swift Rail Development Act, a program to develop high-speed rail corridors, by extending the program's authority through fiscal year 2011. Additionally, the legislation expands the existing Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) loan and loan guarantee program for freight railroads by increasing funding authority from $3.5 billion to $35 billion of outstanding loan principal at any time. The legislation also requires application of prevailing wage rate standards to construction projects funded through RIDE-21.

It is encouraging that railroad transportation, especially passenger rail, is finally coming into focus among lawmakers as the underutilized national asset that it is. The tragedy of September 11 highlighted the importance of passenger rail to the economy and to our national security. The Amtrak and RIDE-21 legislation recognizes the overwhelming need to develop a balanced transportation policy which offers viable transportation options for moving people and goods safely and efficiently. Of all transportation modes, rail undoubtedly has the greatest potential for increasing its market share in both freight and passenger traffic.

Compared to the cost of highway and airport construction, maintenance, and operational needs, railroad transportation is truly a bargain. In fiscal year 2003, the U.S. government provided over $32 billion for interstate highway construction and maintenance, and over $14 billion for aviation, but barely $1 billion for Amtrak and virtually nothing for freight railroad infrastructure. These pending transportation bills, if signed into law, will change all that and bring some balance to our nation's transportation policy. As President, I applaud the leadership of Committee Chairman Don Young, Ranking Member James Oberstar, Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn, and Ranking Member Corrine Brown for their vision and commitment to the development of high-speed rail, support for multi-year Amtrak funding, and their recognition of railroad transportation as an underutilized national asset worthy of long-term investment.

In an economy that is energy dependent, it is high-time that railroads get due recognition for their ability to move goods and people in a fuel efficient and cost effective manner. According to a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in 1998 intercity Amtrak trains consumed 2441 BTUs of energy per passenger-mile versus 3999 BTUs for airline passengers. Thus, the expansion of passenger rail is essential to reducing our nations' dependence on foreign oil. We must also be mindful that passenger rail goes beyond Amtrak to include hundreds of commuter operations throughout the U.S. Between 1997 and 2001, commuter transit ridership in the U.S. increased by approximately 20%. Current data also reflects that 47 of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. are pursuing passenger rail development. The trends in Canada reflect similar increases.

The RIDE-21 bill, if enacted into law, will invest billions of dollars per year into construction, maintenance, and upgrading of rail lines for high-speed passenger rail service. A good portion of this emerging high-speed rail funding will be spent on brand new construction, independent from the work BMWE members currently perform for freight, Amtrak, and commuter railroads. Building and maintaining these proposed new high-speed passenger lines is where virtually all of the growth in railroad construction and maintenance will be over the next 10 years. We know that this newly emerging work will not simply fall into the lap of the BMWE, but rather we will have to fight for it.

In this era of continued outsourcing and downsizing, there is no doubt that this newly-emerging work will be sought out by the ever growing number of railroad contractors desiring to build, maintain, and operate these systems. In fact, much of RIDE-21's passenger rail funding will not go to railroad companies at all but, rather, will be awarded to states and multi-state consortiums to design, build, and operate passenger rail systems largely detached from traditional freight railroads and established passenger services such as Amtrak and existing commuter service. This legislation will give individual states and multi-state consortiums the ability to select and design their own corridors, choose whether to utilize steel-wheel or magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology, and how and on what schedule they will finance and construct projects.

As stated above, the legislation envisions that a sizeable portion of this newly-emerging work will be new construction for passenger rail operations that do not yet exist. Therefore, we as an organization must decide whether BMWE will be an active player, or simply a passive observer, in the development of these proposed passenger rail systems. I strongly believe that we must position ourselves, both on the state and national level, to bring a sizeable portion of this new work under BMWE collective bargaining agreements and convert these new, publicly-funded railroad construction dollars into wages for BMWE members. Based upon the state of the freight railroad industry today, I believe we have little alternative but to expand our union's base by branching out and embracing these newly-emerging, high-speed passenger rail markets. If we fail as a union to take the initiative, BMWE members could be left out of what may prove to be the largest railroad development project since the golden spike was driven at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869.

Expanding into the emerging passenger rail sector will provide benefits and expanded job opportunities for BMWE, without threatening our current jobs on existing freight, Amtrak, and commuter railroads. I believe we have only two possible options with regard to the emerging high-speed rail market. BMWE can be passive, and spend the next 10 years lamenting over the demise of traditional railroad jobs and M/W work opportunities. Or we can be aggressive, seize new work opportunities, add to the ranks of BMWE's membership, and strengthen and grow our union to meet the challenges of the future.

For 116-years, BMWE has been the preeminent labor organization representing the proud men and women who build and maintain the railroad infrastructure across North America. For 116-years, BMWE members have earned their reputation as the most highly skilled and productive M/W workers in the world. And with the support of our members and officers, we will help shape the legislative debate and generate new work opportunities to benefit our membership, just as we have since the founding of our Brotherhood in 1887.

The Brotherhood will work diligently to support both the Amtrak legislation (H.R. 2572) and the RIDE-21 legislation (H.R. 2571) through a gauntlet of legislative attacks which are all but certain. There are those in the Congress and the White House who continue to seek Amtrak's demise, and these same forces will surely attack any passenger rail funding of the type envisioned by RIDE-21. Therefore, the battle is far from won and we must all continue the fight to preserve Amtrak and expand our nation's woefully inadequate passenger rail infrastructure. Ever member and officer of BMWE is urged to join the fight by contacting their lawmakers and voicing support for long-term Amtrak funding and the development of high-speed passenger rail.

President's note: On July 2, 2003, I was compelled to take a temporary leave of absence for medical reasons. Upon completion of medical treatment, I, along with my doctors, anticipate a fully recovery by year's end. The treatment is such that it is in the best interest of the Brotherhood, and my personal health, to take a temporary leave and concentrate my energy and strength on regaining my full health. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have called or written to wish me well. I also ask the membership and officers to support Brothers Fred Simpson and Perry Geller who, under provisions of the Grand Lodge Constitution and Bylaws, will temporarily fill the positions of Acting-Grand Lodge President and Acting-Grand Lodge Secretary/Treasurer, respectively, to serve during the period of my leave.

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