The Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation held a hearing Oct. 1 to hear perspectives from users of the nation's freight system. The panel is working to provide recommendations to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on ways to modernize the freight network and make the United States competitive in the 21st century.
John Duncan, (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said the panel plans to issue a report to the full committee by the end of October.
The manufacturing and agriculture industries represent almost one-fifth of the Nation’s annual gross domestic product. In his opening statement during a hearing, entitled, "Perspectives from Users of the Nation's Freight System," Duncan said both of these industries rely on a highly functioning, efficient, and safe freight transportation network.
"For manufacturing and agriculture businesses to be successful and remain competitive with international competitors, we must maintain and improve our infrastructure to keep pace with growth in these sectors," Duncan said.
The U.S. transportation system is critical to the competitive advantage the nation has in moving agricultural and food products across the country and around the world, testified Bill Reed, Riceland Foods Inc. vice president for public affairs.
Reed informed the panel about the nation's and Arkansas' major rice-producing areas. Exports are an important part of Riceland's total business, he said, and highways, railroads and river transportation are all important to moving rice products to market. With the nation's focus on a fresh, safe food supply and just-in-time manufacturing and shipping, "it is imperative that products move within a narrow time frame...[which] requires a reliable and efficient transportation system," Reed said.
Edmond Johnston, III, transportation policy leader for DuPont, testified that since the last major railroad reform legislation passed by Congress, the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, a series of mergers reduced the number of Class I railroads from 26 to just seven by 2001. With drastically reduced competition, railroad rates have jumped 76% over the last decade—nearly three times the rate of inflation.
Johnston called on Congress to reform Federal rail policy to promote greater access to rail competition and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Surface Transportation Board.