Minority business owners say they face discrimination in rail industry

Minority- and women-owned businesses face discrimination and other hardships while trying to obtain federal passenger rail contracts, the owners of several such companies told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Tuesday.

There’s a concerted effort by large prime contractors and owners to keep Black contractors out of federally funded infrastructure and the rail industry, said Kenneth Canty, who operates several companies including Freeland Construction, which has reconstructed railroad stations in several states.

“From a very young age, my life dream was to work on bridges,” Canty recalled, saying he was inspired by road trips he took with his father from Boston to Baltimore to see his ailing grandmother.

“There’s no coincidence that there’s a dearth of minority contractors who are in the rail infrastructure industry. The majority of these minority contractors are usually taken out before they can even qualify for work for the railroads,” he said.

Tuesday’s congressional hearing titled “Does Discrimination Exist in Federal Passenger Rail Contracting?” was to examine whether a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program should be created for the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure minority contractors receive fair access to government grant money for passenger rail infrastructure projects.

The program, overseen by the Department of Transportation, is designed to increase participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in federally-funded highway, transit, airport and highway safety contracting projects.

The program already applies to several federal agencies under the Transportation Department, but it does not cover the Federal Railroad Administration or related passenger rail work.

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials members said it’s unclear why such a program doesn’t exist.

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