May 1, 2001

Illinois UTU Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo has told the House Railroad Subcommittee that the union favors passage of the Railroad Track Modernization Act of 2001 because it will help the industry attract more business and open up more jobs for operating crews and track workers.

“We are here to support the passage of H.R. 1020,” Szabo told Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Railroad Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee April 25 in Washington. “This bill is beneficial to our rail industry and our rail employees.”

Szabo noted that under H.R. 1020, Class II and Class III railroads, i.e., small regional railroads and short lines, would be eligible to receive federal capital grants to help them upgrade their track and bridges to handle the 286,000-pound hopper cars that are expected to become the industry standard for grain shipments. The new legislation would make $350 million available for such improvements in each fiscal year from 2002 through 2004.

Szabo said the money available to the smaller railroads will benefit the larger railroad industry because of the way the short lines act as feeders to the Class I carriers.

“Approximately 10 percent of the total rail traffic in our system today comes from the short lines and regional railroads,” he told the subcommittee. “Ten percent of the total employment on Class I railroads is directly related to traffic destined to or originating on short lines and regional railroads. The constant interaction of the rail traffic that flows between large and small railroads creates one national railroad network.”

Szabo said that if smaller railroads are forced out of business for lack of capital to fix their tracks, the shipments they once originated no longer will flow to the Class I roads, weakening the latter’s traffic base and forcing Class I carriers to lay off employees. The legislation if a good bargain for the taxpayers as well, he said, noting that if small railroads are forced out of business, the grain, coal and mineral shipments they handle will switch to heavy trucks, which will accelerate the deterioration of the highway system and force cities, counties, states and the federal government into highway rebuilds far more expensive than railroad upgrades.

Szabo said the UTU also supports the new legislation because it includes language that protects railroad jobs and protects the right of railroad workers to unionize. Any track upgrades will have to be performed under the terms of the Davis-Bacon Act, which assures that track and construction workers will be paid the prevailing wage in their respective industries. In addition, operating employees on railroads accepting H.R. 1020 grants would be covered by the New York Dock Railway decision, which guarantees a seniority-scaled continuation of wages and benefits in the event of a layoff.

“Perhaps most important,” Szabo commented following the hearing, “is that the Railroad Track Modernization Act contains a grandfather clause to assure that federal benefits go only to existing regional and short lines. Otherwise, Class I carriers could shed their undermaintained branch lines to new buyers lured by the prospect of using federal infrastructure money to start up a new non-union railroad. We don’t want to see these precious capital dollars used to finance union-busting. We want them used to fix up deteriorated track, make old railroads competitive, and create a safe workplace and job security for railroad workers.”