Barack Obama: A great train robber?

WASHINGTON — At the same time as the American Trucking Associations (ATA) applauded Barack Obama for extending weight allowances in Main and Vermont, the Association of American Railroads is accusing the president of, well, train robbery.

At issue is a pair of pilot programs.

In Vermont, a new program permits 108,000 to 120,000-lb six-axle trucks to operate on interstates and bridges. In Maine, 100,000-lb trucks would be allowed.

The programs, which by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) SmartWay standards have clear environmental and economic benefits, are due to expire in December.

But the Obama administration has asked Congress to make the extensions permanent.

"We greatly appreciate the President’s support for changes that will improve safety and economic productivity," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said.

"Existing restrictions on truck weight limits constrain the trucking industry’s efforts to reduce crashes, help our customers to remain competitive in global markets and lower our carbon footprint."

As well, allowing more productive trucks to use interstates instead of forcing them to use more accident-prone secondary roads will improve safety.

However, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) thinks this is a horrible idea and said as much in a letter to Capitol Hill.

In addition to the age-old accusation that heavy trucks cause infrastructure damage that taxpayers will ultimately have to pay for, AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger wrote, "this [extension of the program] will rob the railroad industry of revenue needed for reinvestment and add congestion to the nation’s highways."

Hamberger also said that giving the okay to Maine and Vermont might be contagious and might provide impetus to trucking interests in the Northeast and along the East Coast to lift the federal truck weight ban elsewhere.

Still, in its message to Congress, the Obama administration credited the pilot programs with improving safety and productivity:

"Continuing the program will improve safety on local roads and increase efficiency of commercial trucking in the region," the administration said in its request.

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