We need not read deeply into the history of the United States to become aware of the great and vital role which the railroads have played in the opening up and developing of this great Nation. As our frontier moved westward it was the railroads that bore the great tide of Americans to areas of new opportunities and new hopes. It was the railroads that linked together the diverse segments of this vast land so that together they might create the greatest economy that the world has known.
They brought the agricultural products of the South and the Middle West and the mineral resources of the West to the industries of the East. They were the channel through which the industrial products of the East flowed into every section of this Nation. Their value to our national defense and security has been beyond all measurement.
Yet today this vital part of our economy and essential element in our defense is under a grave threat. Railroad service is increasingly being curtailed, and the jobs of thousands of men and women who operate railroad facilities are menaced. The effect of this is felt by the entire economy. It is no exaggeration to say that the distress of our railroads is one of our most crucial problems. But the same ingenuity and basic strength that developed the industry a century ago can work out the solutions to the modern problems and cause it to grow and prosper again.
The Democratic Party is firmly committed to the revitalization of our railroads and their restoration to strong position in our economy. We can no longer continue to meet our transportation problems on the hit-and-miss basis of the past 7 1/2 years. We must establish a national transportation policy which will strengthen our railroads and coordinate and modernize all of our transportation facilities.
THREE AREAS FOR ACTION
First, we should carry out the legislative mandate, which the Republican administration has never carried out-to make a census of transportation so that the Congress and the Executive will have adequate and accurate information on which to act.
Second, the industry should be released from burdensome and unnecessary Government regulation. It is important that the public interest be uppermost at all times, and regulation is essential to accomplish that purpose. But it is time the laws were examined in the light of modern exigencies.
The Democratic Congresses during the past 6 years have clearly recognized the need for remedial legislation against burdensome regulation. Under Democratic sponsorship, the Congress took the first step toward the accomplishment of this objective with the enactment of the Transportation Act of 1958. This act also provided for financial assistance through a system of government guarantee of loans made to railroads for capital improvements for the purpose of increasing the efficiency and economy of railroad operations. The Democratic Party has pledged that it will continue Federal assistance toward meeting certain of the capital needs of the railroads.
Third, and of particular importance, are the needs relating to urban mass transportation.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that if we are to solve this problem, we will have to make greater and more effective use of our railroads. We can do this if the Federal Government is prepared to assist the railroads to retain responsibility in this important area of public service. The Democratic Party knows of no wiser investment that this Nation could make, and will support legislation to provide such assistance.
If the railroads are to become and remain strong, we must continue to assure workable processes to govern the relationships between management and labor. The Railway Labor Act has served as an effective instrument for that purpose. The Democratic Party has opposed in the past and will just as strongly oppose in the future the attempts to weaken the Railway Labor Act.
We are equally determined to strengthen the Railroad Retirement Act and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. During the past 6 years the Democratic Congress has done much to improve these two important enactments. (During that period as a member of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare it was my responsibility and privilege to participate in the development of such legislation.)
Our efforts were successful in increasing the benefits payable under both acts with the enactment of the Railroad Retirement Act of 1959. Our efforts were equally successful in resisting attempts to remove the Railroad Retirement Board from civil service protection. The Retirement Act and the Unemployment Compensation Act are in need of further improvement if they are to meet the needs of today. The Democratic Party is pledged to make those improvements.
The great issue of our time is whether the world of the future will be a free world or a slave world. We have committed ourselves to the side of freedom and have assumed the leadership of those nations dedicated to freedom. In the fight against totalitarianism we have need of every asset that we possess. Not the least of these is a viable and prosperous railroad system.