Railroads square off against truckers in Congress for new highway rules.
Truckers are flexing their muscles in Washington, lobbying lawmakers to extend the maximum size of semi-trailers allowed on the nation’s highways. Railroad operators are mounting their own effort, seeking to derail the changes.
As Congress gears up to take on the renewal of the Highway Trust Fund, which expires in May, legislators will have the opportunity to include language expanding the current limits on truck trailer sizes in the U.S. The trucking industry would like to see language allowing for 33-foot trailers, as opposed to 28-foot trailers now allowed on federal roadways. The railroads, which stand to lose billions of dollars if trucks are allowed to carry larger loads, would not.
A New York Times story, printed on April Fool’s Day but dead serious, laid out the campaigns of both sides, including bankrolling law enforcement officers to make their case using neutral-sounding organizations funded by the industries. “The railroad industry, through an organization called Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, has paid the airfare and hotel bills… for police chiefs, state troopers and sheriffs from states including Michigan, Ohio and Texas,” the Times reported. Many of those same law enforcement officials, however, “did not know of the railroad industry’s role in footing the bill for their trip.”
The story noted the trucking industry has formed its own group, Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking. The motor freight carriers also bankrolled a University of Michigan study, which found that twin 33-foot trailers would be more stable than the current 28-foot models. “But in a fact sheet the trucking industry group put out last month, it did not make it clear that this was an industry-funded report.”
Truckers are also facing continued efforts by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to unionize drivers, with a fourth victory by the union at a FedEx Freight terminal in California, but the Teamsters have lost more often than they have won, and are required to organize terminal by terminal, a formidable obstacle in an industry in which FedEx Freight alone operates 360 terminals. A bigger problem for carriers may be finding drivers to put in the cabs of those rigs, unionized or not, and of whatever size.