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NEBRASKA - LEGISLATIVE SUMMARY
Richard Schmeling - April 18, 2023
legislative bill of main interest to ProRail in the 2023 Nebraska
Legislative Session is LB 44 which seeks to have Nebraska rejoin the Midwest
Interstate Rail Passenger Compact (MIPRC).
44 was introduced by Lincoln Senator George Dungan. It is the same as the
bill introduced by Sen. Eliot Bostar in the 2022 Session. It would have
Nebraska rejoin MIPRC after an absence of several years. A plus regarding
rejoining is that MIPRC has told Sen. Dungan that when we rejoin, we will
not have to catch up on the dues for the years when our state was not a
had a hearing before the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee
on March 6, 2023. ProRail President Matt Roque testified in favor of the
bill and did his usual excellent job. I testified in favor of LB44 as
President of Citizens for Improved Transit (CFIT). A representative from
SMART (representing railroad labor unions) also testified in favor of the
bill. No one spoke in opposition. A number of letters were received by the
Committee to be part of the record. There were five letters in support and
six in opposition. I have obtained copies of all these letters. Among the
support letters was strong endorsement from the Sierra Club of Nebraska
authored by Clyde Anderson. The letters in opposition were mostly from the
western part of Nebraska. One of them was for the wrong bill, and the others
were concerned about their taxes being increased if Nebraska rejoined MIPRC.
Senators Blood, Hunt, Aguilar, Bostar, Day, Walz, and Raybould added their
names as co-sponsors of LB44, we were unable to get a senator or the
Committee to designate LB44 as a priority bill. Such designation helps to
ensure that the bill will reach the floor for consideration by the full
device for getting LB44 to the floor would be to amend it to another bill
that has the priority designation. This was explored with Sen. Dungan's
office. Inquiry was made to Sen. Walz who has a bill that did get advanced
to the floor, but this bill also lacks priority designation and will
probably not be taken up this session. Other bills with priority
designations involve different subjects than railroading, and it would be
difficult to incorporate the provisions of LB44 into any of them.
net result is that LB44 will not pass this session, but it will
automatically carry over to the 2024 session. During that session we may be
able to get a senator to designate it as a priority bill.
bills regarding railroading which ProRail has tracked are not likely to pass
during this session. LB31, introduced by Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte,
would require train crews of at least two persons on most trains operated on
railroads in Nebraska.
Many railroaders appeared at the hearing before the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee. I spoke in favor of the bill as the President of CFIT. Opposition testimony came from Union Pacific, BNSF, and Nebraska Central.
bill is currently stalled in the Committee. It does not have a priority
designation and will not likely be passed in this session. Sen. Jacobson has
stated that he will designate this bill as a priority bill in the 2024
Session which will help move it along.
the national scene, a series of railroad derailments involving most of the
Class 1 railroads has caused the public to express concerns about railroad
safety. Recently the Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern have indicated that
they will no longer advocate for one-man crews. The Federal Railroad
Administration has announced regulations which would require a two-man crew,
and such a measure would apply nationwide and negate any state law to the
contrary. For now, it may be that LB31 is not needed; but the railroad
unions would still like to have it passed.
would task the Nebraska Dept. of Transportation (NDOT) for providing safety
standards for public transit in Nebraska and enforcing such regulations.
bit of background may be helpful here. Basic safety rules promulgation and
enforcement for railroads used to be provided by the Interstate Commerce
Commission (ICC). The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was created by
the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, and the FRA took over
responsibility for railroad safety from the ICC. FRA inspectors regularly
conduct inspections of locomotives, railroad cars, and track. In Nebraska
during ICC days and continuing to the present, the Nebraska Railway
Commission (now the Public Service Commission) also had inspectors to
enforce safety, mostly track inspection.
would transfer this state inspection responsibility from the Public Service
Commission (PSC) to the NDOT.
testimony on LB796, it came out that the PSC has two inspector slots. One of
them is unfilled and the other is filled by a person who is on an extended
medical leave. So no inspectors from the PSC are currently active. In view
of the increased attention regarding railroad derailments, senators on the
Transportation & Telecommunications Committee were concerned about this
lack of inspectors which is probably why LB796 is moving along towards
railroad-related bill is LB234 introduced by Sen. Lynn Walz of Fremont. This
bill would require the NDOT to report to the Legislature on the number of
complaints filed each year regarding crossings blocked for ten minutes or
longer. I testified in favor of this bill at the hearing before the
Transportation & Telecommunications Committee on behalf of CFIT. The
senators on the Committee were very interested in the subject matter of the
bill. Several senators indicated that they had received calls from voters in
their districts about blocked crossings.
all the railroad-related bills, this bill is the only one which advanced to
the floor and is placed on General File but has not had its first reading.
It is not a priority bill but may be taken up now that several other major
bills have been disposed of.
Suzanne Geist who had been serving as the Chairperson of the Transportation
& Telecommunications Committee this session resigned during April. She
was a candidate for Mayor of Lincoln and wanted to devote more time to the
Mike Moser of Columbus who had been Vice-Chair was elected to chair of the
Committee. Sen Barry DeKay of Niobrara, a first term senator, was elected to
be Vice Chair.
Jim Pillen appointed Carolyn Bosn as the replacement for Sen. Geist who will
serve out the balance of the term. She will serve on the same committees as
bills not enacted in this session will carry over to the 2024 Session
automatically. During the next session, senators may opt to introduce new
bills and give them priority status, or they can designate a bill like LB44,
which is a non-priority bill this session, as a priority bill in 2024. We
will work between sessions to make LB44 a priority bill.
Ahead to the Next Session
this session we did not introduce a bill concerning commuter rail service
between Lincoln and Omaha. Such a concept will be part of a bill next
session which will:
calls on Nebraska to update plan, create passenger rail between Omaha and
By Luna Stephens Mar 4, 2023 Omaha World Herald
coverage of ProRail's March 4 Meeting in Lincoln)
for passenger rail transportation in Nebraska renewed their calls Saturday
for more state action on proposed rail projects, including a long-dreamed
commuter line between Omaha and Lincoln. Chief among the issues raised is
the fact the state hasn't updated its rail plan, a critical document needed
to secure federal funding, in 20 years.
state of Nebraska is shooting itself in the foot by not updating the plan,"
said Matt Roque, president of ProRail Nebraska, which hosted Saturday's
meeting in Lincoln. The group advocates for improved passenger rail and
other forms of public transportation.
most recent rail plan was released
in 2003 following
a study by the Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council.
Federal Railroad Administration advises states to submit an updated rail
plan every four years. Without one, states are ineligible for most federal
funding for rail projects, Roque said.
Alongside calls for updating Nebraska's rail plan, advocates also voiced support for Legislative Bill 44. The bill, introduced by State Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln, would reinstate Nebraska as a member of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The group, according to its website, advocates for rail projects in member states and coordinates interaction between them.
joined the compact in 2001 but left it in 2018 following a legislative bill passed
in 2015 that
reasoned the $197,650 in membership fees paid over 14 years was not worth
the outcome. Different
state lawmakers in recent years have introduced bills to rejoin the group.
While membership fees will be increasing to about $25,000 a year, Dungan
said that's a small price in the grand scheme of the state's budget.
Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is scheduled
to hold a public hearing on LB 44 on Monday at the State Capitol. "There
seems to be a renewed interest in rail both from an excitement perspective
and a safety perspective," Dungan told the group. "I think we're
really seeing bipartisan efforts to prioritize rail issues." Being
part of the rail compact would make it possible to help shape efforts to
create rail service between cities across the Midwest, Roque said.
in the group include Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota,
Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, according to its website. Nebraska is
eligible to join, as is Iowa, Ohio and South Dakota. "You're
never going to get anywhere if you’re not sitting there at the table and
are part of the discussions that are happening," he said.
2003 rail plan proposed a potential commuter rail line between Lincoln and
Omaha that would run along the existing Amtrak route. The plan identified
the route as the most promising commuter rail project in the state, with an
estimated potential of 78,000 to 116,000 passenger trips per year if the
rail line had been open in 2010.
believes developments since 2003 further point to the potential success of
rail. Amtrak had seen increased ridership before the pandemic and those
numbers have since rebounded to near
Additionally, progress has been made on enforcing regulations that give
passenger trains the right of way over freight trains. "There's
so many benefits environmentally and economically," Roque said.
"The economic development that happens around train stations is proven
over and over again."
Saturday's meeting, ProRail Nebraska's members discussed their continued
support for the potential rail line between Lincoln and Omaha, noting it
would benefit students, workers and people commuting for events like Husker
football games and Creighton basketball games.
also discussed the potential for rail routes in central and western
Nebraska, including to cities such as Grand Island, North Platte and
Scottsbluff by way of existing Amtrak or freight train routes.
first step for ProRail Nebraska moving forward will be working with state
leaders to get an updated rail plan in place. "Nothing
is going to happen in this state without a state rail plan," Roque
City of Omaha voices support for the proposal by State Sen. Justin Wayne, who said he was a streetcar critic
BY: CINDY GONZALEZ - Nebraska Examiner - FEBRUARY 24, 2023
LINCOLN - The controversial Omaha streetcar project could get a $100 million jolt from the State of Nebraska under a plan before the Legislature - that is, if the route were extended into North Omaha and to the airport.
presented Friday by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha to the Legislature's
Appropriations Committee asks for the state funds to establish and operate a
streetcar that would connect to Eppley Airfield.
Wayne said, his Legislative Bill 477 is a way to put pressure on the City of
Omaha to take the $300 million-plus streetcar project through less
advantaged areas and to the airport, and also to "set some standards on
who gets included and who doesn't."
here to read the rest of the article.
Omaha Modern Streetcar Launches New Website
Click here to visit the website.
ProRail Nebraska supports improved public transit services including the Omaha Streetcar Project.
By Will Bauer, Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
statewide rail plan was last updated in 2003, making it the most out-of-date
plan in the country, and rail advocates say that has held Nebraska's
guidance from Federal Rail Administration, the rail branch of the U.S.
Department of Transportation, state DOTs are supposed to update the railroad
document, called a state rail plan, every four years.
The state of New York is next in line and was last updated its rail plan in 2009, while all other states have produced a rail plan within the last 10 years. The document lays out a state's vision for rail development and projects, while also summarizing facts and details about railroads in the state.
A lack of an up-to-date rail plan is probably the biggest blow to Nebraska's passenger rail proponents like Richard Schmeling, who is a member of the passenger rail advocacy group ProRail Nebraska. When Schmeling has asked the Nebraska Department of Transportation why the agency hasn't produced a rail plan in the last 18 years, he said he's told Nebraska is just watching to see what other states do.
You'd think that it would be important for Nebraska to grasp our own situation and deal with things within the state of Nebraska," he said, "so that we wouldn't just simply have to wait and see what other states are doing, and all of a sudden realize, 'Whoa, we should get busy here because we're behind the ball on this thing.'"
While a state rail plan is not required by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, it is highly encouraged by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Even though Nebraska has the oldest plan, it is not the only state with an out-of-date plan. But, without it, Nebraska, which has nearly 3,500 miles of track, may be losing out on grants and other federal money for passenger and regional rail, according to experts and advocates. Ryan Huff, chief strategy officer at NDOT, said the state agency doesn't currently have plans to update its 2003 plan, but that doesn't mean it won't ever.
Huff, who has been with NDOT for 11 years but only served two or three years as the chief strategy officer, said he's partially speculating as to why the plan hasn't been updated because he hasn't been there the whole time.
Under a 2013 U.S. law, rail plans are supposed to be submitted to the FRA every four years. Twenty-three total states have either submitted plans in the last four years or will submit a plan by the end of 2021 or 2022, according to Nebraska Public Media News research. That means a majority of states fall into Nebraska's out-of-date category.
"Nebraska may be willfully giving up the opportunity to receive grants and federal money by not having a current rail plan," said Dan Bilka, a member of the Rail Passengers Association from South Dakota, who adds that having a plan is key a consideration of the FRA in awarding grants under certain programs for passenger rail. There are, however, other programs which do not require an up-to-date plan, according to the FRA.
"But we deem it as an important process because we want to make sure that our railroads are eligible for any type of federal funding that would require it be identified, as well as any other entity that might be applying that would be eligible for those funds." Nebraska's rail plan - or lack thereof - has not affected Iowa, Martin said. It could potentially if Iowa had a project that spilled across the state border and the FRA needed to see it in a Nebraska Rail Plan, she said.
For those smaller freight carriers, the companies are specifically asked by the FRA if their proposed project is in a state rail plan, according to Chuck Baker, the president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. A short line or regional rail project being listed in a rail plan is not a requirement, but it appears it's favorable in the eyes of FRA, Baker said.
because being in a state rail plan is indicative that people in the state
have thought about this, there's been community engagement, it fits in with
some sort of broader state transportation plan and it's supported,"
Baker said. "The federal government, it sometimes feels like they have
unlimited money, but I swear it's not actually unlimited. So they like to
spend it in a way that it's not going to be wasted."
We think trains need more prominence in the U.S. because:
(above courtesy Rail Passenger Association)
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