When I got back home I posted that I caught a severe head cold. I am starting to recover but still a little loopy. I may have to revise this post and the last one for clarity. We will see. In this post I want to share my experience going up Capitol Hill to visit the offices of Representatives Crawford (AR CD1), and Womack (AR CD3) on Tuesday March 28, 2023. I scheduled a meeting with Senator Joh Boozman on Wednesday as he was busy on Tuesday.
I joined many other members of the Rail Passengers Association for a Rail Nation Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. On Monday during a briefing on what to expect when we meet with our congressional delegates. We were told not to expect to meet with the Congress People themselves. We will meet with staff and usually they will meet us in the hall outside the office. Most of the staff will be polite and we were encouraged to be polite with the staff. Most staff are there to help constituents and often don’t share the guff the parties put out. There may be the occasional happy warrior who totes the party line but they are rare.
There were no RPA meetings on Tuesday so I finished some homework I started months ago back home in Arkansas. I knew there were industries in Arkansas that catered to the rail industry. I discovered Arkansas Steel located in Newport, AR. Ark Steel is co-owned by 2 Japanese steel companies known for making high quality steel products for the rail industry in Japan and here in America. They also supply the Japanese Shinkansen railway, Japan’s High Speed Rail or Bullet Train. The companies are Yamoto and Sumitomo. In Newport they build tie plates that hold rails to the cross tie.
I called Richard Anderson of Ark Steel before going up the Hill. He said that they sell tie plates to Amtrak for projects mostly outside of the Northeast Corridor. With Amtrak’s plans for rebuilding and expansion across the US, Ark Steel and a number of other Arkansas companies stand to increase sales. Yamato also builds steel construction beams in Blytheville, AR.
Preparation included my approach. I decided to focus on the economic benefits rather than the environmental. I know that the environmental aspect is the most important for many of you, just as it is for me. I wanted to give the staff person something to use on the US Representatives that could make an impact on their thinking. And since money talks…
With these facts and other facts too numerous to catalog here, I started out to my appointments two hours early. I will write another blog about my difficulties tomorrow but I finally got to the Rayburn Federal Office Building. The Capitol Police were as nice as could be and I thanked them for their service.
First I went to Ricky Crawford’s office and met with Ashley Shelton, a Senior Advisor. My first impression of the House offices is that they are tiny and everyone in there must be sitting on top of each other. We sat at a small round table in the reception area. After a few minutes we were met by Sean Jeans-Gail of the RPA. I led with the economic impact. With the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, Amtrak’s higher funding, and other bills like The Inflation Reduction Act, there is more money for passenger rail expansions. While I was talking about the Arkansas businesses I mentioned above, Ms Shelton said she knew where these businesses were located. It turned out that she is an Arkansas native from Heber Springs. She was familiar with Newport, Paragould, and most of the communities in CD1.
I replied that she could tell me more than I could tell her and I should let her make the presentation! That got a good natured laugh which helped me feel better about how this was going.
I went on comment on how important this is to Arkansas rural counties that we expand passenger rail. I reminded her that rural counties and communities in Arkansas are shrinking. Many will start to lose hospitals and clinics. Wal-Mart centers will close and people will continue to lose jobs. With expanded frequent passenger rail people con commute to cities for jobs and take their paycheck home to spend. Refurbished stations will create small business opportunities and so on. I went on to ask for continued funding for Amtrak, High Speed Rail, and support for multi-state passenger rail compacts. Specifically I asked for a second Texas Eagle run through Arkansas during daylight hours so more Arkansas can take the train. I asked for the Kansas City to Shreveport LA route that runs through NWA. And I asked for a 160 MPH High Speed line from NWA through Little Rock to Memphis. I mentioned that possibility of a special train that can take overnight deliveries from the WalMart.com and Amazon.com facilities to the Memphis airport from UPS and FedEx aircraft. Ms. Shelton was sympathetic and indicated an understanding of the issues Arkansas people face. We concluded our meeting very cordially. Both Jean-Gail and I felt good about it.
I went down the hall to Steve Womack’s office. I met with Nick Runkel, Military Legislative Assistant. Mr Runkel is a native of Virginia but is familiar with NWA. We met out in the hall but there was no one else out there to disturb us. I made the same pitch about the economic impact and for funding for the Arkansas projects I mentioned to Ms Shelton. I added that energy independence, increased railroad usage will decrease energy consumption, is a national security issue. And I made a pitch for the National Infrastructure Bank. Once again, Mr Runkel was knowledgeable and sympathetic. He said about the NIB that the idea was around but that he didn’t know “folks back home cared about it”. He could have been talking about passenger rail too. And that he will certainly let Rep Womack know about our concerns.
That last bit about how they didn’t know “folks back home cared about… a certain issue” is why I made #MakeTheAsk our goal this year. If our elected officials don’t hear from us the only people they hear from are lobbyists who don’t have our best interest at heart.
Tuesday I felt all day as though I was about to catch a cold. And on Wednesday it hit me. I cancelled my appointment with Senator Boozman with all apologies. By Thursday on my way home I was hit with the cold full force. I will send Senator Boozman a letter with the material I shared with our Representatives. And I will keep in touch with the contacts I made.
Next I will blog on why we should stay angry about mass transit.
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