The Association of American Railroads (AAR), in partnership with grassroots advocacy organization GoRail, honored Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) with the first-ever Railroad Achievement Award. Recognized for their consistent, bipartisan leadership on issues affecting U.S. railroads and the nation's rail network, the inaugural winners were announced in advance of a panel discussion on Capitol Hill analyzing the railroad industry's contributions to the U.S. economy.
"A strong American freight rail industry plays an essential role in powering the nation's economy, and leaders in Congress make this possible by supporting policies that allow railroads to invest for the future," said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senators Thune and Nelson play an instrumental role in shaping public policy that affects railroads tooth to tail, including major freight operators, short lines, Amtrak and the sizeable supply sector. Nowhere was this more evident than in 2015 when this bipartisan duo helped steer passage of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act."
The Railroad Achievement Award will be given periodically in the future to other members of Congress who AAR and GoRail believe have shown leadership on policies that help ensure the vitality of railroads in the United States. Award winners like today's have particularly shown an understanding of the distinct role railroads play in the American economy and the need for safe and efficient operations made possible through sustained investment.
"Communities all across America reap the benefits delivered by an innovative freight rail industry that invests more than 40 cents of every revenue dollar back into the nation's rail network," said GoRail President Russell McGurk. "Making this possible are sound public policies and elected leaders like Senators Thune and Nelson with the foresight to enact and protect those policies."
In prepared remarks introducing the senators, AAR's Hamberger stressed the importance of the FAST Act, the first long-term surface transportation bill in a decade, which included critical safety enhancements as well as Amtrak reauthorization. While noting there is still work to be done, Hamberger also applauded a FAST Act measure made possible by the bipartisan teamwork of Senators Thune and Nelson that streamlines the environmental permitting process for rail infrastructure projects based on previously enacted reforms for highway and transit projects. The reforms are designed to increase capacity, improve safety, hire new employees and provide efficient service to rail customers - all areas Hamberger singled out as issues of profound understanding among the senatorial honorees. Hamberger also commended the Senators for their leadership in reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Board.