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BLET VP John Tolman testifies at House hearing on Northeast Corridor high-speed rail

CLEVELAND, December 17 — On December 13, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman testified in support of Amtrak and rail labor at a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee regarding high-speed rail and the future of the Northeast Corridor.

Vice President Tolman testified that Amtrak has done an excellent job of operating the national passenger railroad in spite of its budgetary and funding limitations. Any current and future work to improve the Corridor must include a professional, unionized work force of rail employees, he said.

“We think that Amtrak’s ‘Next Gen’ plan for the Northeast Corridor provides a template for a public-private partnership that is worth discussing if the partnership does not reduce the public interest — or the interests of BLET members and Amtrak’s other professional, skilled workers.”

The hearing, titled “Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation,” was chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Mica is a known opponent of Amtrak and supporter of privatizing the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s most profitable route. Mica has been criticized for frequently holding hearings to criticize Amtrak, fixating on the national passenger railroad at the expense of other, more pressing transportation issues.

Vice President Tolman also testified regarding the BLET’s firm belief that Amtrak should continue to be the rail service provider for the Northeast Corridor and across the United States.

“Amtrak has provided progressive, quality service despite many, many obstacles and continues to look for ways to increase train speed, reliability and service in spite of these obstacles,” Tolman said.

Tolman testified that rail privatization in other parts of the world has led to systemic safety and reliability problems. He said the United States should learn from those mistakes and not attempt to privatize Amtrak — either in whole or in part.

Other witnesses included: Karen J. Hedlund, Deputy Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Joseph Boardman, President and CEO, Amtrak; Joan McDonald, Chair, Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission and Commissioner, New York State Department of Transportation/ Dr. Richard Geddes, Adjunct Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; and Perry Offutt, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley.

It was Rep. Mica’s final hearing as Chairman. Under House rules, he has reached the maximum amount of time allotted for serving as Chairman. He will be replaced by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) in the next Congress.

BLET National President Dennis Pierce thanked Vice President Tolman for delivering the testimony.

“Vice President Tolman spent his operating career on the Northeast Corridor and is uniquely qualified to represent the BLET at the hearing,” President Pierce said. “I thank the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee for giving the BLET an opportunity to share our thoughts, and thank Brother Tolman for the excellent job he did in representing the organization before Congress.”

A copy of Vice President Tolman’s written testimony is available for download here from the BLET website.

Monday, December 17, 2012
bentley@ble-t.org

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