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A strategic rail plan being prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation should propose dedicated financing mechanisms outside of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to support high speed passenger rail, encourage open competition for work on all types of rail projects, recognize that new rail investments can catalyze public support for investment in all modes of transportation, and include a focus on goods movement.
These were the recommendations of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) in comments filed last week with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on its proposed National Rail Plan.
ARTBA’s comments noted that throughout the next 30 years, the U.S. population is expected to grow by 100 million and freight traffic is expected to double by 2035. Public transportation, high speed and intercity passenger rail and freight rail system capacity is essential for economic growth and competitiveness.
Establishing a national goods movement plan such as ARTBA’s Critical Commerce Corridors (3C) proposal will also help address America’s growing freight challenges by providing new surface transportation capacity and operational improvements paid for by new dedicated freight-based user fees, according to ARTBA.
ARTBA also noted that freight rail systems are capital intensive and proposed that new rail capacity and upgrade needs be addressed in part through extension of the rehabilitation tax credit and continued use of federal credit assistance programs such as those provided under Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). ARTBA also called for state and local governments to levy fees on freight rail use to finance public investments in this infrastructure.
ARTBA said that investments in high speed passenger rail could become a catalyst to complement all other modes of transportation and said that public support for high speed rail would be much greater for transformational projects than those with gradual incremental improvements — while both are appropriate in a national plan.
In addition, for safety and performance purposes, high-speed rail should be fully freight and grade separated. The association opposes the use of federal funds to finance the general operating costs of high speed and other intercity passenger rail systems, saying that these networks are best funded through operating revenues or by state and local authorities similar to many commuter rail models.
ARTBA also told FRA the association supports a requirement that all high speed rail planning, design, construction and operations projects funded with federal funds must be awarded through an open, competitive, procurement process.
A copy of ARTBA’s comments is available under the “Government Affairs” section of the ARTBA Website at www.artba.org.