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Biden-Harris Administration, USDOT Make Available Nearly $9 billion to Modernize Busiest Passenger Rail Corridor in America

busiest passenger rail corridor in America

Biden-Harris Administration, USDOT Make Available Nearly $9 billion to Modernize Busiest Passenger Rail Corridor in America

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) today announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) making available nearly $9 billion in funding to upgrade and expand passenger rail services along the Northeast Corridor (NEC). These funds will be issued through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program (Partnership Program), which grew to $36 billion over the next five years thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Today’s investment will fund projects of national and regional significance, improving infrastructure, equipment, and facilities, including bridges and tunnels, rail stations, and track. This investment will help improve reliability and result in fewer delays for the over 200 million annual trips taken by commuters and intercity passenger riders on the Northeast Corridor.

“Every day, hundreds of thousands of Americans rely on the Northeast Corridor, our country’s busiest rail route,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Americans deserve to have the best rail system in the world, and the investments we are announcing today will serve to modernize the Northeast Corridor for generations of passengers.”

The Northeast Corridor, stretching from Washington, D.C. to Boston, is one of the highest-volume rail lines in the world. The area it spans accounts for 20 percent of our nation’s GDP. The number of Americans utilizing the corridor continues to grow, approaching pre-pandemic levels, with Amtrak ridership alone more than doubling in the last 12 months to 9.2 million passengers annually.

Administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Partnership Program is a competitive discretionary grant program that has supported the rehabilitation and renewal of intercity passenger rail infrastructure for years. Most recently, the program advanced project development and construction for major bridge replacement projects, including the Susquehanna River Bridge in Maryland, the Connecticut River Bridge, and the Portal Bridge in New Jersey.

The NEC Project Inventory, which FRA issued in November, will guide investments under the Partnership Program and promote a transparent, systematic, long-term strategy for growing the NEC. It prioritizes key projects for funding, such as the repair and modernization of major bridges and tunnels – all of which are over a century old – which include the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel in Maryland, the Walk Bridge in Connecticut, and the Hudson Tunnel in New Jersey, part of the Gateway Program.

“Today’s investments are a major step towards reversing a half-century of underinvestment in vital rail infrastructure and will result in fewer delays for millions of riders and travelers,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose. “The expanded Partnership Program funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will ensure that the Northeast Corridor thrives as the region’s economic and transportation backbone, while making its services more reliable, available, and accessible to even more people.”

Earlier this month, FRA also made nearly $2.3 billion available through the Partnership Program for intercity and high-speed rail projects nationwide. Taken together, more than $11 billion in passenger rail funds have been made available in the first round of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

rail corn

Corn Refiners Association Joins President Biden in Asking Congress to Prevent a Rail Strike

In response to President Biden’s call on Congress to prevent a freight rail work stoppage that would cripple U.S. agricultural production and supply chains, Corn Refiners Association President and CEO John Bode issued the following statement:

“Like many U.S. agricultural processors, corn refiners are already operating at full capacity for a number of important ingredients used broadly in food and personal care products. Our industry is stretched to the limit, working to deliver ingredients that are used in thousands of products in the grocery store. Even a one-day rail work stoppage would be catastrophic for our industry and the nation’s consumers. For this reason, I’d like to express our appreciation for President Biden’s call for prompt action from Congress and join him in urging our lawmakers to prevent a rail work stoppage of any length.”

CRA is the national trade association representing the corn refining industry of the United States. CRA and its predecessors have served this important segment of American agribusiness since 1913. Corn refiners manufacture sweeteners, starch, advanced bioproducts, corn oil, and feed products from corn components such as starch, oil, protein, and fiber.

biden

Biden Avoids Rail Strike with New Deal, but not Everyone is Happy

Joe Biden signed legislation imposing a deal he negotiated between freight railroads and organized labor, averting a possible strike but risking a divide with rank-and-file union workers who opposed the settlement.

“It was tough for me,” said Biden at a signing ceremony at the White House on Friday, while heralding the bill as the only option to avert a disastrous work stoppage that would have threatened key supply chains ahead of the Christmas holiday. “It was the right thing to do at the moment, to save jobs to protect millions of working families from harm and destruction, and to keep supply chain stable around the holidays.”

But the president risks alienating labor activists and workers who have long proven key political allies, further undermining the relationship between Democrats and the white working class, and fomenting pressure to deliver on a key promise — expanding paid sick leave — that ranks as unlikely-to-impossible as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in the new Congress.

Biden has said labor unions will have to wait to obtain sick leave, which was left out of the contract, but provided no timetable on when he could deliver. Asked when workers could expect those benefits, Biden said: “As soon as I can convince our Republicans to see the light.”

An effort by Democrats to amend the deal to include seven days of paid sick leave for workers came up short when it failed to garner the Republican votes needed in the Senate. A sick leave amendment, pushed by independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont received 52 votes, short of the sixty votes needed to pass.

GOP lawmakers have seized on the dispute to highlight Biden’s rift with organized labor. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley was among the conservative Republicans taking up the workers’ cause, using it to excoriate the White House.

“All these people during Covid work from home all the time, fine,” Hawley told reporters Thursday. “Who knows how many people in the White House are still working from home. And yet if a railway worker wants more than one day of sick leave, oh, oh my goodness we couldn’t possibly do that.”

Hawley, along with several other Republicans, voted for the additional sick leave and against legislation to impose the deal, lining up with a handful of Senate liberals such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The vote from GOP Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for paid sick leave led Sanders to joke on the Senate floor, “I knew you were a socialist.”

But Republicans, who largely oppose intervening in labor disputes and who have come out against extending such benefits in the past, are unlikely to provide Biden the help needed to move paid sick leave legislation for rail or other workers in the next Congress.

Union Rift

Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in US history, but his actions over the rail strike threaten to undermine the president and union leaders’ support from rank-and-file workers.

In the months after he personally negotiated the September settlement, four of the 12 unions involved in the negotiation — representing roughly 54,500 workers – rejected the contract. The unions that approved it represent about 43,000 workers, according to the National Railway Labor Conference.

One former union president, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, expressed frustration at the AFL-CIO’s lack of involvement, which he saw as a tacit endorsement of Biden’s plan to leave out sick leave.

“Biden wouldn’t be out there unless he had the blessing of these unions,” the person said. “This is the difference, as my great-grandmother used to say — time to watch your feet and not your mouth.”

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Tuesday said it was “deeply disappointed” by Biden’s decision to impose a settlement.

The criticism from union and progressive Democrats has put Biden on the defensive.

Biden on Friday called the legislation to impose a settlement “a really good bill lacking only one thing.”

The agreement includes a 24% pay raise, an average of $11,000 in back-pay bonuses, an additional day of paid leave and would prevent increased health-insurance premiums.

Earlier: Biden Says Rail Workers Must Wait on Paid Leave, Defending Deal

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that ultimately for the administration, the risk of a strike impacting the nation’s food supply and putting the post-pandemic economic recovery into jeopardy outweighed the push to add sick leave to the negotiated deal.

“When you look at what the devastation a national rail strike would cause America that far outweighs the cost of moving forward,” Walsh said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

An analysis from the Anderson Economic Group projected US workers and consumers could see losses of $1 billion over the first week of a strike.

Walsh defended Biden’s union bona fides, saying that unlike previous cases where Congress had intervened, the president won significant concessions for workers – including a pay raise, unpaid leave, and a preservation of health care premiums.

“There’s some very good provisions in the contract,” Walsh said. “It wasn’t like it was a bad contract.”

Still, the Labor Secretary said he planned continue engaging freight rail companies on the issue of paid leave, saying that the two sides didn’t need to wait for the new contract to expire to strike a deal that could improve relations between the two sides.

“I intend on sitting down with the companies and talking to them about a couple of things that during the negotiations that I heard from the unions,” Walsh said.

The president, joined at the signing by Walsh, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at the signing, thanked his team, vowing to redouble his efforts on paid leave.

“They did one heck of a job in averting what could have been a real disaster. And then ended up with a good product. but we still have more work to do, in my view in terms of ultimately getting paid sick leave not just for rail workers, but for every worker in America,” he said.

rail corn

UK Rail Union Rejects Offer, Christmas Strikes Still Planned

Britain’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has rejected an offer from the Rail Delivery Group aimed at ending a strike action planned before Christmas.

The offer proposed a pay-rise of 4% in 2022 and 2023, but the union claims it is conditional on many changes to working conditions, including job losses, reducing train staff on-board and the closure of all ticket offices.

This offer is the first in months, according to the RMT, and comes after the Department for Transport gave the Rail Delivery Group, which negotiates on behalf of rail operating companies, a mandate to make a proposal. This comes as pressure is piling on train companies with a strike action planned for 8 days in December and January as well as an overtime ban from Dec. 18 to Jan. 2 threatening mass rail disruptions.

“We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said. “The RDG and DfT who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch called for an “urgent” meeting with the Rail Delivery Group tomorrow to negotiate further. Network Rail also made an offer on pay and working practices which the RMT is reviewing.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper called the deal’s rejection “incredibly disappointing and unfair to the public, passengers and the rail workforce who want a deal.”

“Our railways need to modernize,” Harper said in a statement. “There’s no place for outdated working practices that rely on voluntary overtime to run a reliable 7-day service.”

railroad union

President Joe Biden asks Congress to Impose Rail Deal over Union Objections

President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are moving to prevent a looming shutdown of the nation’s freight railroads with the House preparing to take up legislation this week to impose a settlement over the objections of some unions.

Biden said in a statement Monday that lawmakers should “immediately” codify the agreement he helped broker in September between unions and railroads “without any modifications or delay,” after some labor groups voted to reject it.

Biden’s intervention underscores the administration’s growing concern about the possibility of a work stoppage on freight rail lines. A strike could wreak havoc on the US economy by crippling supply chains, disrupting passenger rail travel and preventing key materials from reaching water treatment plants.

Unions and railroads have until Dec. 9 to avoid a strike, and a negotiated agreement now appears unlikely.

Of a total of 13 labor agreements among the 12 unions representing different types of rail workers, nine have been ratified and four were struck down by members. Tensions rose after the largest union representing about 28,000 workers, mostly conductors, voted it down, with 51% against, in results released on Nov. 21.

Congress can intervene to stop a strike under federal law. Pelosi said the House would consider legislation this week to adopt the tentative September agreement.

Freight rail companies urged Congress to act quickly.

The September agreement, though, does not include sick leave, a key issue for freight-rail workers, who have sought to guarantee medical time off and other benefits.

Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, said he would oppose any legislation that doesn’t include paid sick days. BMWED was one of four unions that voted down the proposed agreement, and Cardwell said he would stand by his members.

The threat of congressional intervention already robbed unions of leverage, Cardwell said. Freight-rail carriers last week turned down the union’s latest offer of four paid sick days — down from the initial request of 15 — knowing Congress would step in, he said.

Cardwell said he had been on the phone all day trying to shore up support for paid sick days in the forthcoming legislation.

Pelosi in her statement praised the September deal for “including a 24% raise, no changes in copays, deductibles or coinsurance costs, some time off for routine, preventative and emergency medical care,” but said Democrats would continue to “fight for more of railroad workers’ priorities, including paid sick leave.”

The White House signaled earlier Monday it would not let a shutdown of freight rail lines cripple the economy, with a spokeswoman noting that Congress has repeatedly intervened in the past to prevent work stoppages.

Congressional action to stop a strike isn’t a foregone conclusion. Legislation could run into objections from progressive Democrats because unions, a powerful Democratic constituency, oppose it. Senate procedures are more complicated, so getting a bill passed by the deadline would probably require all 100 members to agree on holding a quick vote.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said he would support a rail strike bill if it guarantees sick leave benefits.

The Senate Commerce Committee’s top Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said Congress must pass legislation to avert the strike.

However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said a bill on the rail strike has been discussed but that it would be a “challenge” to get it done by the deadline.

ExxonMobil-SABIC JV

Savage Selected as Partner for ExxonMobil-SABIC JV Rail Project

San Patricio County, Texas can expect to see the completed ExxonMobil-SABIC JV Rail Project facility as early as 2021, according to information released this week confirming global partner Savage, as the partner of choice behind the design, development, and operations of the facility.

The rail facility is the product of the joint venture, Gulf Coast Growth Ventures (GCGV), between ExxonMobil and SABIC and will handle railcars transporting plastic polymer, polyethylene. The facility will be completed in San Patricio County, Texas, next to the GCGV facility.

“We’re excited to partner with GCGV on rail infrastructure and operations to support what will be a world-class petrochemical facility,” said Savage’s Energy and Chemical Sector President, Brad Crist. “Our nearly two decades of handling plastics and working with major industry producers, coupled with our extensive rail experience, enable us to design this rail facility from an operator’s perspective to ensure it functions safely, efficiently and reliably without impact on the surrounding environment.”

Savage currently boasts a network of 50+ rail terminals currently under its operation. The company provide support with services including rail switching and indexing, railcar washing and loading, railcar repairs and facility maintenance in addition to designing and building the ExxonMobil-SABIC JV rail facility.

“This project is an example of how we can bring our diverse rail, logistics, engineering and facility operations capabilities together to create value for our Customers,” said Kirk Aubry, Savage President and CEO. “It’s the quality of our people, our solutions and our consistency delivering results that truly makes us distinctive in the markets we serve.”