Indiana News

Unions, Environmentalists Urge More Spending on Freight Rail

Labor-green coalition argues expansion would create jobs, help environment

11/29/2010

A coalition of Indiana unions and environmental groups wants an expansion of freight rail.

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The BlueGreen Alliance doesn't have a specific plan in mind, but says several proposals in Congress would advance the concept of rail expansion, from a tax credit to railroads for expanding capacity to the $50 billion infrastructure package President Obama proposed in September.

"We're hoping this kind of spurs more of those ideas (to be) thrown out there, but we are not going to be supporting any direct number of tracks laid," says alliance regional program manager Tom Conway.

The alliance argues new rail would equal new jobs, and more environmentally friendly transport.

United Steelworkers regional organizer Robin Rich says companies in Lake County, LaPorte and Logansport all make steel used in railroad tracks, and would gain jobs from a rail expansion in Indiana. A study the alliance co-authored in May calculates every billion dollars spent on freight rail translates to 78-hundred new jobs, a cost of $128,000 per job.

Obama proposed building 4,000 miles of new railways, as part of a package which also called for highway and airport construction. That plan went nowhere as Congress rushed to adjourn, and it's uncertain how the new Republican majority in the House will view it.

Republican Governors-elect Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio have denounced proposed high-speed passenger rail projects in their states as wasteful, and have vowed to turn down federal money to advance them. Conway says the alliance hopes any money for freight rail would receive a better reception from Governor Daniels.

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