Railroad hopes Congress fixes expensive math gaffe

first_imgPhoto: Frank KovalchekThe Alaska Railroad has a lot riding on a highway bill pending in Congress. The railroad CEO says he hopes it will fix a technical mistake in a 2012 law that has shortchanged the Railroad $3 million a year.Download AudioWhen you’re up against a deadline and all bleary-eyed from working way too long, you’re prone to make mistakes. It’s the same with Congress, only on a larger scale. Three years ago, when Congress passed a highway bill, the House and Senate lawmakers negotiating the final version agreed the Alaska Railroad should get $31 million a year in formula funds. It was a cut from years past, but that was the deal. And then somebody made a mistake in calculating the formula.“Due to the math error, by the time it was all said and done — one of these 11th and a half hour deals — we only received $28 million annually,”  says Alaska Railroad CEO Bill O’Leary.The railroad attributes the mistake to the Federal Transit Administration, which provided technical assistance to the congressional conference committee. O’Leary says it appears to be just an honest mistake, a late-night math goof that has cost the railroad $3 million for each of the past three years.Alaska Congressman Don Young convinced his colleagues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to fix that math mistake this year. The House passed a new highway bill this month that would bring the formula funding for the Alaska Railroad back to the intended amount.The Alaska Railroad gets about half its revenue from hauling freight, and about 25 percent from government sources.Young’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, also attributes the math mistake to agency personnel and says he doesn’t know if it affected any other railroads. In 2012, some lawmakers wanted to drastically cut the Alaska Railroad’s funds. Young was one of the conference committee members then, and Shuckerow says he got his fellow negotiators to agree the Alaska Railroad should get $31 million, only to see $3 million lost to technical error.“That’s part of the reason why it was such a top priority for him to rework this issue,” Shuckerow said.The Senate version of the bill does not include the Alaska Railroad fix, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski was appointed to the conference committee this time and it’s a priority for her.last_img