FY2018 Budget Gives Amtrak Funding a Boost

A federal budget bill approved by Congress last week contained an increase in funding for Amtrak, although that funding boost is expected to be used to help pay for the Gateway project in New York-New Jersey.

However, Amtrak’s long-distance trains would also receive an upward bump in funding.

News reports indicate that Amtrak will receive a minimum of $388 for the Gateway project, which involves replacement of tunnels leading into New York City beneath the Hudson River.

The $1.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allocates more money for passenger rail projects than Congress has approved since the 2008 economic stimulus spending programs ended.

The budget directs $650 million to the Northeast Corridor while Amtrak’s national network will receive $1.292 billion. Those are both increases from 2017 funding of $328 million for the NEC in 2017 and $1.1 billion for the national network. Amtrak’s total appropriation will be $1.942 billion, up from $1.428 billion.

Other transportation programs also fared well in the budget bill.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program was given a $1 billion boost over 2017 levels to $1.5 billion available. At least 30 percent of these grants will go to rural communities.

Federal investments in rail infrastructure and safety programs was funded at $3.1 billion.

Also included is funding for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $250 million to address critical rail investments nationwide and on the NEC.

Rail safety and research programs received $287 million to fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure.

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants were given $593 million to fund capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. There is also $250 million included for grants available to rail operators for the installation of positive train control.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program received a $25 million allocation for the first time and $350,000 has been set aside to help short line and regional railroads participate in the program.

The Federal Transit Administration received $13.5 billion, which includes $9.7 billion “to help local communities build, maintain, and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems.”

Within the $9.7 billion is $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants transit projects. “New Starts” projects are funded at $1.5 billion, Core Capacity projects at $716 million and Small Starts projects at $400 million.

The Trump administration and President Donald Trump in particular have opposed federal funding of the Gateway project, saying that the states of New York and New Jersey needed to spend more of their own money for most of the project.

The project involves building a new Tunnel under the Hudson River and replacing the century-old Portal Bridge on the NEC.

There has been speculation that Trump opposed the Gateway project as retribution to New York and New Jersey Congressmen and Senators who opposed a tax cut bill that he favored and which Congress passed last December.

At one point Trump had threatened to veto any bill containing federal funding for Gateway.

The 2018 budget will circumvent the Trump administration’s opposition to federal funding of the Gateway project.

Amtrak is likely to contribute a minimum of $388 million to Gateway though its Northeast Corridor Account, while New York and New Jersey will receive $153 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s High-Density States and State of Good Repair grant programs.

Gateway is projected to receive 60 percent of the original federal dollars intended for it.

The budget bill ensured that the U.S. Department of Transportation will have limited ability to withhold the $650 million earmarked for the Northeast Corridor Account, which also funds projects throughout the region.

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