Lipinski on Track with New Rail Policy Post in Congress
Crain's Chicago Business
Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, is poised to become the highest-ranking Democrat on a House subcommittee on railroads at a time when issues involving Metra and Amtrak will be barreling down the track next year.
His Southwest Side turf has more rail lines than any congressional district in the country, or so he claims. “No one has disputed that,” Lipinski said. “It's just critically important to this area.” His father and predecessor as congressman, William Lipinski, also served as the senior Democrat on the rail panel.
Although the subcommittee passed an Amtrak reauthorization bill in September, it's expected to die without a House vote when Congress adjourns. That bill didn't make cuts in Amtrak service, he said, but “the question is whether federal support will continue” when the legislation comes up again with Republicans in control of the Senate next year, when the GOP increases its majority in the House of Representatives.
The Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee also has to decide whether to extend next year's deadline for the rail industry to install sophisticated collision-avoidance equipment, called positive train control. Metra is very concerned about the cost, he added.
The system is expected to cost Metra “upwards of $400 million,” according to a spokesman for the commuter rail service.
About $133 million of that expense is in hand, with rest expected to come from recently approved fare hikes.
Lipinski said there's talk of adding a railroad or freight section to a massive highway-transit bill that's coming up for renewal in May, which would help steer funding to rail projects such as Chicago's bottleneck-eliminating Create program.
Does that also mean more money to complete the Chicago-St.Louis high-speed rail project? “My expectation is it's going to be extremely difficult,” the congressman said.
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