Update March 2024

Solutionary Rail has had a busy and pretty exciting first quarter of 2024.  It finally seems that SR concepts are getting attention and having impact.

Last week we met with a journalist at the Wall Street Journal for an upcoming article. We had several conversations with allies on Rail in the Public Interest and the intersections of EJ and Labor concerns. We testified before the EPA in support of California's new regulations on locomotive emissions. To cap off an epic week, on Friday, someone contacted us to discuss rail electrification, saying, "I have a call with the White House this afternoon on rail to pitch some specific ideas." And they did pitch some of our ideas for corridors to electrify and other proposals, such as these we'd provided to the FRA.

It was heartening to learn that there is an interagency collaboration to create a plan for decarbonizing US railroads. This has been something we've been advocating for since 2021!  To be called to advise is almost as cool as it would be to be invited to advise the White House directly. 

We have expanded our team lately, adding Sasha Elenko, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago. He's serving as a researcher, assisting Bill and Patrick Mazza with preparing materials for articles and a potential second SR book. If you haven’t yet, you can meet Sasha at our next Hive Call, Tuesday, April 2nd. (More info below.)

If you like what you’re hearing from Solutionary, we need your support.  Donations are tax-deductible. Small monthly donations are especially helpful in providing a reliable base of support; one time donations are a shot in the arm, fueling timely projects. However you support this work, your contribution makes a big difference. We run entirely on donations from individuals like you, as well as the incredible volunteer energy from so many of you.

Rail Electrification - In Solidarity with EJ and Labor Allies

Solutionary Rail gave testimony last week in an EPA Hearing that’s critical for decarbonization and Rail in the Public Interest. We are supporting California’s effort to lead the way on new clean air rules. 

This is an important step because if allowed to do so, other states will be able to emulate California’s rules, opening the way for electrification and having a transformative effect on future ownership of rail corridors.

We are grateful to the leadership of our Environmental Justice allies in the Moving Forward Network and our Labor allies in Railroad Workers United (RWU) and UE - United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. SR recently helped introduce Rail Labor and EJ allies who held a Teach In Roundtable earlier this month. Community organizers and workers presented on air quality and public health from emissions and cumulative impacts from living and working near freight lines and warehouses, as well as Class 1 practices of slashing safety standards, and places where concerns intersect. 

Solutionary Rail Team members will attend the Labor Notes conference and Railroad Workers United annual meeting, in Chicago next month, where the dialogue will continue in a 2nd roundtable event.  

Trains Can Save Salmon - a Solutionary Rail Plan Benefitting Fish and Farmers

Solutionary Rail has spent significant energy delving into the Pacific Northwest’s greatest ecosystem challenge that is pitting farmers and tribes against each other, relative to barge transport on the Lower Snake River. (Transportation was the primary reason for installing the four dams in the 1960s and 70s.) The potential for more resilient transport of wheat off the Palouse is the subject of our Rosalia to Pasco Shortline Access Corridor proposal:

  • Connectivity and increased access could dramatically reduce truck trips to river ports.

  • Transloading from shortline rail to barge in Pasco could provide an excellent alternative to dependence on long shuttle trains that rely on BNSF and UP for cars and power. 

  • The corridor is a particularly fascinating opportunity to explore electrification using battery-electric locomotives. Empty trains travel upslope gaining as much as 1600’; heavy, loaded trains move downslope; regenerative braking could make this a zero-emissions and possibly a net-zero energy rail corridor. 

One person on our team who helped formulate the Rosalia to Pasco Corridor, Don Schwerin, is a SE Washington wheat farmer. He wrote this OpEd Commentary, Let’s Plan for a Transition.

Bill presented on the Proposal last weekend on Toki TV. 

Solutionary Rail is now looking for opportunities to get the attention of our Washington State Governor and Dept of Transportation (and Jacobs Engineering, hired as the consultant) as they begin their study process of replacing services. We say, the study is mostly done - and we won’t even charge you for it!

Wrap Up of Washington State Legislative Session

The short Washington State Legislative session came to a close this month. While SR and our allies in the Rail Can’t Wait Campaign spent countless hours meeting with legislators and their staff, testifying at hearings, and mobilizing grassroots pressure for sensible rail priorities, in the end we received almost nothing for all our advocacy. 

Why? Because the Ultra HSR project is being forced upon Washington state by Microsoft, WSP, and the Challenge Seattle billionaires. Bill’s January 2nd Op-Ed in the Seattle Times made it feel that a victory for common sense, higher speed rail was within sight. Why would we spend $150 BILLION and wait three decades for a boondoggle that may never be built - when a $15 billion project (Amtrak Cascades Long Range Plan) would serve more people, in more places, and deliver the impacts we urgently need within this decade? 

But Microsoft responded with a “Fake News” propaganda campaign, spending something in the range of $100,000 on “Sponsored” column space in the Seattle Times. These ads are not subject to editorial review, fact checking, or reader comments. 

At the close of the session Bill testified at the Senate budget hearing (Video Here) and proposed this immensely reasonable compromise: Split the previously allocated $50 million matching funds; allocate $20 million for UltraHSR and $20 million for Amtrak Cascades so they can both access 9:1 federal matching funds, and allocate the remaining $10 million to projects that help the rest of the state

Despite both being eligible for the same federal program dollars - Ultra got $25 million matching fund (the maximum it can currently use), while Amtrak got $ZERO matching funds - which starves it of opportunities. This is on purpose.  Were the Long Range Plan for the Amtrak Cascades being updated and implemented, the public would see the folly in supporting the ultra-boondoggle. That’s why they’ve worked so hard to make it disappear. And its disappearance is NOT in the public interest. 

The political machine runs on billionaire cash. The “Ultra” boondoggle continues to take all the oxygen out of the room (and all the funding out of the budget). The fight isn't over and opportunities to submit testimony will be addressed in an upcoming email alert.

Get Involved!

SR Hive calls are now monthly - the first Tuesday of the month, at 5pm Pacific Time.  RSVP for the April 2nd call HERE.

We hope to connect with you soon!

Trucks on electrified rail in Switzerland

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  • Amy Morrison
    published this page 2024-03-27 21:38:20 -0700
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