Press Release

Rep. Cuellar Includes Language in Transportation Appropriations Bill to Tackle Rail Congestion, Hazardous Materials Issues in Laredo

Language in bill would direct U.S. Secretary of Transportation to implement recommendations outlined in GAO report and $25 million in new funding for International Railroad Crossings

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2016 | Rafael Benavides (956-725-0639) | comments

Today Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced he included language in the House Fiscal Year 2017 Transportation Appropriations bill designed to ease rail congestion at international rail crossings and address the problems posed by transporting hazardous materials through border crossings. Congressman Cuellar also secured $25 million dollars of new funding for international rail crossing in the bill that was approved by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently and now must be voted on by the full U.S. House.

The language stems from concerns originally outlined in a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), prepared at the request of Congressman Cuellar, which detailed the effects of high volumes of international freight rail in the city of Laredo.

The GAO’s report zeroed in on the negative effects rail congestion has on Laredo and found that 22 trains travel through Laredo every day, generally 11 are U.S.-bound and another 11 are Mexico-bound, according to officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

In Laredo, there are more than 80 points where railroads cross at streets used by drivers. Most disruptive are the 13 downtown railroad crossings, which halt drivers going to school, to work, to shop or to Mexico. According to CBP officials, a single stopped train in downtown Laredo can stretch nearly two miles from the border to Interstate Highway 35, causing massive congestion on local roads and lost money and productivity.

To address this issue, Congressman Cuellar included language in the appropriations bill directing the United States Secretary of Transportation to implement recommendations outlined in the GAO report, which would improve:

·         The availability of data to quantify freight trends on railroads and the impacts they have on local traffic congestion

·         Adjust the maximum allowed train speeds for certain trains through Laredo’s cargo inspection center

·         Work to address delays associated with crew changes

·         And continue to work with state and federal agencies and their Mexican counterparts to best address congestion at international rail crossings

This provision also directs the Federal Railroad Administration to provide the U.S. House Appropriations Committee with a report on its progress in implementing these changes within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.

Congressman Cuellar also seeks to help ease the stresses placed on international rail crossings by securing $25 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The new funding would be available for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Grants.

Finally, Congressman Cuellar is also concerned about safety issues in the transportation of hazardous materials across the U.S.-Mexico border, including by rail. To address this issue, Congressman Cuellar included language in the appropriations bill directing DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to work closely with local governments, like Laredo, to reduce the risks associated with the transportation of these materials.

“As a Laredoan, I am personally aware of the issues posed by rail congestion and hazardous materials traveling through our port regularly,” Congressman Cuellar said. “The congestion issue presents problems for the smooth passage of traffic and prevents additional freight traffic from making its way through Laredo, which presents our community with an economic loss.

“The issue of safe transport of hazardous materials is one that cannot be ignored. We need to maintain a fast and robust rail trade with Mexico, but we also need to ensure we do it in a safe way. That is why I have included this language in the THUD appropriations bill so that the Port of Laredo continues to grow for the benefit of our community.”

To see the language Congressman Cuellar added, please see the attached document here.

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