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Rails Rebuff ATA Plea for Help on Weight Limits

December 19, 1999

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In an effort to win permission for bigger trucks, American Trucking Assns. President Walter McCormick sought an alliance with an unlikely ally – the railroad industry.
His overture did not work.

McCormick, in a letter dated Dec. 15, asked Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, to reconsider AAR’s longtime opposition to higher weight limits. He also suggested a summit meeting between truckers and railroads.
In his response the next day, Hamberger ignored McCormick’s requests and turned his argument upside down.
McCormick’s letter, which was copied to leaders on Capitol Hill and the Department of Transportation, noted that sport utility vehicles are not being delivered to dealers quickly enough because of rail delays. Truckers could help, McCormick said, but are unable to because of weight restrictions.

Further, McCormick said, the rapid growth of e-commerce is straining the transportation system – which is limited by “artificial constraints” on size and weight. “Let’s face it,” McCormick wrote, “It’s consumers that are being hurt.”
Railroad opposition to heavier trucks is slowing economic growth, McCormick wrote. ATA has called for state flexibility on truck sizes and weights, and for a repeal of federal maximums on weight, and McCormick asked Hamberger to consider supporting these changes in order to “assure fast, frequent, safe freight delivery and sustained economic growth.”
Hamberger, whose response also was widely distributed in Washington, turned McCormick’s request around by citing a number of articles published in the ATA newspaper, Transport Topics.
“Your call for increased weights for automobile transporters came as a distinct surprise,” Hamberger wrote, referring to a Transport Topics report on the ATA board voting against a proposal to increase the weight limit for auto haulers.
Citing other articles, Hamberger said trucks do not pay their share of highway costs and thus are subsidized by taxpayers. “Your desire to increase productivity is admirable but you side-step the responsibility of addressing how to pay for that increased productivity,” he wrote.
Earlier this year Congress received legislation that would grant greater flexibility on truck sizes and weights, but it went nowhere. And it is not likely to go anywhere next year, either.
Asked if he expects any movement on the issue in the next congressional session, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking Democratic member of the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee, replied simply: “No.”

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