On April 8-9, 2014, Southern Rail Commission Chairman Knox Ross, Vice Chairman Greg White, and Secretary-Treasurer John Spain traveled to Washington DC for a series of meetings with the Federal Railroad Administration and key Congressional offices. The meetings had twin goals: to educate federal officials regarding SRC’s active engagement in critical rail projects in the Southeast, as well as to inform those officials of SRC’s federal priorities related to passenger rail legislation and funding. The Commissioners clearly conveyed the sense of excitement in the Southeast regarding passenger rail and the economic benefits that would result from increased service. These messages were well-received by all who heard them.
The Commissioners met with Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and his staff for nearly an hour, sharing SRC’s vision and discussing specific activities, plans, and projects underway to improve passenger rail connections in the region. The Administrator encouraged on-going coordination between the SRC and the FRA. The Commissioners also informed the Administrator of the SRC’s intent to submit an application for federal TIGER funding at the end of this month. FRA staff will be part of the team at the U.S. Department of Transportation who will review those applications this summer.
The Commissioners also met with senior Republican and Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the two Congressional committees responsible for crafting legislation to replace the expired Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act on 2008 (PRIIA). The Commissioners conveyed the importance of maintaining the national, long-distance passenger rail network as well as expanding service in key corridors such as Baton Rouge – New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Committee staff appreciated hearing directly from business leaders about the importance of rail for their communities. While the schedule for release of a PRIIA reauthorization bill is not yet set, the staff expressed willingness to continue engaging with the SRC as the process moves forward.
Meetings were also held with offices from the regional Congressional delegation, including Senators Landrieu and Wicker and Representatives Harper, Aderholt, and Roby. These meetings followed upon meetings held in early April by Commissioner Billy McFarland with Senators Sessions and Shelby. These meetings were positive and supportive of the SRC’s efforts.