Unions and environmental groups called on Congress to provide more funds for passenger rail and transit systems in a report released today.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center and BlueGreen Alliance released the report, “Passenger Rail & Transit Rail Manufacturing in the U.S.,” which examined the impact and opportunities the passenger rail and transit industry presents to the national economy.
Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said at the Washington, D.C., release that there are a variety of opportunities for Congress to invest in long-term passenger rail and transit infrastructure.
“We believe both passenger rail and transit should be included in a robust way in the transportation reauthorization bill and how funding is allocated,” he said. “We’re not against highways and bridges, but we want to make sure passenger rail and transit is a full, robust part of how the transportation reauthorization bill comes out.”
Some members of Congress have fretted over funding for a long-term bill, but Learner suggested there are ways to pay for infrastructure needs, including raising the gas tax.
“The gas tax has attracted some support and some favorable nods on both sides of the aisle, but also some opposition, particularly coming from the Republican House members,” said Learner.
Jennifer Narrod, the shop chairwoman for the IUE-CWA Local 81323 and a worker at Alstom Signaling Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., said a downsizing of manufacturing at her plant in recent years not only has hurt workers, but also has affected small businesses throughout the community. Narrod said long-term investments in the rail industry would be beneficial to Rochester and small towns across the country.
Narrod said her company, which produces signaling and operating systems for rail cars, manufactures products for larger cities and noted that Rochester doesn’t have a passenger rail system. Along with the report, Narrod said small-town companies have a significant impact on the rail industry and are important to the economy.
The report found more than 750 companies in 39 states that manufacture components for passenger rail and transit rail. It homed in on a set of Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states and found 540 companies making subcomponents of materials, track and infrastructure products, as well as providing repairs for the industry.
Investing in passenger rail and transit infrastructure could further boost manufacturing in those states and expand production to others, the report found.
“We need leadership from Congress to ensure long-term, sustainable funding for transportation, and from leaders at every level to ensure that as we build and operate the clean energy and transportation infrastructure and technology of the future, we also rebuild good family-supporting jobs and prosperous communities,” said Kimberly Glas, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental groups.
Congress has until May to find a funding solution for transportation infrastructure.
The report’s authors said short-term funding bills hamper hiring and fail to give investors and companies confidence to expand plants. Both Glas and Learner said a long-term infrastructure investment would provide these companies with certainty for the future.
Although there are a few months until the deadline, Glas said she and others would have “boots on the ground” at the Capitol and in congressional districts that are affected by infrastructure funding.
“Congress can and should come together and get something done here, and get it done in way that’s robust for creating jobs, growing our economy, investing in passenger rail and transit rail that helps our environment, helps mobility, reduces congestion and is good for jobs,” said Learner. “It’s up to Congress now to get that done.”