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Boxer: Pass highway bill to keep trains running

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., talks about a bill on Feb. 12, 2015, flanked by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., left, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Boxer is retiring from the Senate next year.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., talks about a bill on Feb. 12, 2015, flanked by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., left, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Boxer is retiring from the Senate next year. McClatchy

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she would not support extending the year-end deadline for railroads to implement a collision-avoidance system if Congress doesn’t approve a six-year transportation bill that’s languished for the past two months.

Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which in an increasingly rare demonstration of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, unanimously approved a six-year transportation bill over the summer. The bill then passed the full Senate on a vote of 65 to 34.

If Congress doesn’t extend the federal highway trust fund by Oct. 29, payments to states for their road, bridge and transit projects could stop the next day.

Another deadline could be coming on Dec. 31. By then, railroads are required to install positive train control, but few will make the deadline, which Congress set in 2008.

On the Senate floor, Boxer blamed the House of Representatives for not following through on the Senate’s action on the transportation bill.

“I had received assurances that the House would follow the lead of the Senate and introduce and pass a long-term transportation bill,” she said. “It has not done so.”

The Senate’s six-year transportation bill actually averts a rail system shutdown with a three-year extension on the positive train control deadline. It also provides $200 million in grants and loans to help commuter railroads, which lag behind on installing it.

Last week, the American Chemistry Council calculated that a monthlong shutdown of rail service could cost the economy $30 billion. That’s $6 billion more than the estimated cost of the 2013 government shutdown.

But Boxer warned her House colleagues against any attempt to deal with it separately.

“I will oppose any attempts to cherry pick issues and deal with them outside of the long-term bill,” she said.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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