February 20, 2011

WEST CHICAGO, Ill. (Feb. 20)—UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy was an invited guest and joined with other labor groups, regional elected officials and economic-development leaders here today in urging the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to make sure the budgets for CREATE, Amtrak and other critically important national rail projects remain in the next U.S. transportation bill.

The small gathering of stakeholders was selected to receive a transportation briefing from U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) prior to a field hearing at the DuPage County Airport held by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chmn. John Mica (R-Fla.). Lipinski is a member of the powerful T&I Committee.

Mica, along with the rest of the new GOP majority in the House, voted to slash $74 billion from the 2011 budget for discretionary programs including transportation—17 per cent below the 2010 appropriation.

The vote, which unfortunately ran along rigid party lines and was opposed by all House Democrats, is not expected to be affirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even if the Senate were to accept the cuts, Washington insiders say, Pres. Obama would veto them when the bill came to his desk.

“Even though the full menu of House budget cuts is unlikely to survive the legislative process, we wanted to help Cong. Lipinski bring our message to the new chairman loud and clear,” Guy said: “’Hands off the rail budgets.’ UTU’s official submitted comments reflected our opinion that Amtrak, CREATE and the president’s high-speed rail projects are simply too critical to job creation and economic expansion to be sacrificed for budgetary reasons.”

Guy explained that unlike some federal programs, the rail projects have the potential to drive immediate and long-term growth and job creation into the U.S. economy.

“We have learned over the last few years that highways and airports alone cannot drive economic expansion fast enough to create new jobs,” he said. “Highways and airports are old technologies that have reached the end of their productivity curve: They can add only marginal new growth to the economy.

“Rail, by contrast, has emerged as something close to a new technology,” Guy said. “It’s undergoing a second life in which it adds exponential economic value to other forms of human activity, such as travel, tourism, manufacturing, and shipping.

“Passenger trains can go over 200 miles per hour now,” Guy said. “That’s three or four times faster than cars and competitive with jet airliners on routes of less than 500 miles.”

Guy said that historically, any new transportation technology that materially reduces travel time is followed by economic development at all locations where travelers enter and leave the system.

“New housing, office and retail developments open around railroad stations the same way they used to open around Interstate ramps and airports,” Guy said.

“Highway and aviation technologies are growing tired and approaching the top of their productivity curves. In less than a decade it is predicted that 90 percent of urban Interstate highways will be at or exceeding capacity. They have lost the power to fuel exponential growth, while passenger trains have recovered it.

“If this county wants to return to the kind of economic growth we got from the Interstates during the 1960s and from the airports in the ’70s and ’80s, we’re going to have to build a modern passenger-train system,” he said.

Guy said rail freight transportation is racking up similar productivity gains that trucks no longer can achieve.

“Freight now can cross the country in five days by rail using only one twenty-fifth as much fuel per ton as when it’s shipped by truck,” he said. “That’s why the CREATE improvements in Chicago are so important: They can cut up to a day off the coast-to-coast timetable, save millions of gallons of fuel and tons of pollution every year and make rail transportation attractive to thousands of shippers who aren’t using it yet.”

Guy said engineers have estimated that it would take 16 highway lanes to carry the same number of passengers per hour as two railroad tracks protected by modern signaling. He said if Amtrak did not connect the mainland with Manhattan Island, it would take 20 additional highway lanes, 10 new tunnels under the Hudson and hundreds of acres of new parking to move the same number of people into New York City every day.

“Those of us who live with railroad technology every day sometimes fail to appreciate just how efficient it’s becoming compared to the other modes,” he said. “We have to be ‘evangelists’ who get out and tell people the ‘good news:’ Rail development is the key to a more prosperous America. That’s the message we sent today.”