Amtrak Sends Its FY2021 Funding Wish List to Congress

Amtrak has submitted its wish list to Congress, which includes funding in fiscal year 2021 of $1.33 billion for the National Network and $714 million.

The passenger carrier also is seeking $300 million to develop new corridors and contains various capital requests to cover the costs of replacing diesel locomotives and rebuilding passenger cars used on long-distance trains.

The carrier said it is “on track to achieve operational breakeven in FY2020.”

What Amtrak is seeking is far below what the Trump administration has proposed that it receive.

The administration’s budget request for FY2021 seeks $936 million for Amtrak, which the carrier notes is a 53 percent cut in the $2 billion funding it received from Congress for FY2020.

Amtrak said it appreciated the Trump administration’s focus on expanding intercity rail passenger service to underserved cities and corridors, but the carrier said that if its funding falls to what has been proposed by the administration that would “have significant negative impacts on vital capital projects and initiatives across Amtrak’s network and put at jeopardy the Corporation’s continued strong financial and operating performance.”

The budget request contains $4.9 million for Amtrak’s share of the rebuilding of the track used in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The Rail Passengers Association said its review of the Amtrak’s budget request found that the carrier is seeking $2 billion toward replacement of Superliner and Amfleet II equipment, which is used most of the time for long-distance trains, and $1.5 billion for the replacement of locomotives used in the national network.

Amtrak is also seeking $510 million for equipment that would be used in new corridors.

Although the budget request does not name any specific new corridors that Amtrak wishes to develop, it gives some detail about how the carrier proposes to fund those services.

Amtrak would fund up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs to develop new corridor services.

Operating and ongoing capital costs would be funded on a sliding scale over the next five years ranging from 100 percent by Amtrak in the first two years to 50 percent in the fifth year.

State support would begin in the third year at 10 percent, increase to 20 percent in the fourth year and 50 percent in the fifth year.

The budget document said these shares are of fully-allocated operating losses and capital costs.

After the fifth year of operation the expenses of a corridor would become subject to the terms of Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which requires that routes of 750 miles or less must be state-supported routes.

As for when Amtrak will begin to identify the emerging corridors, the budget request said that process will begin within one year after the date of enactment of Amtrak’s reauthorization.

The FAST Act that authorizes Amtrak expires on Sept. 30. Although Congress may adopt a new surface transportation authorization law by that date, some observers have suggested lawmakers may extend the existing authorization via a continuing resolution as they continue to hammer out the contentious political issues surrounding a new transportation authorization law.

That means a new authorization could be pushed into 2021.

Amtrak said in its budget request that once it has been reauthorized, it will consult with state departments of transportation, local municipalities, host railroads, and other stakeholders.

Those conversations will lead to the development of plans that Amtrak will submit to the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as the House and Senate authorizing committees for high-potential corridors.

Amtrak said that at that time it will show proposed routes, schedules and frequency of service information. It will also provide estimates of ridership, revenue and capital investment requirements.

“Amtrak shall consider market conditions, stakeholder funding commitments, public subsidy per passenger, and host railroad cooperation when selecting routes,” it said.

It is noteworthy that the budget request said Amtrak may (emphasis added) cover up to 100 percent of the capital costs needed to launch a route.

It will negotiate memorandums of understanding with state sponsors and, presumably, those negotiations will involve capital costs to be contributed by the states.

“As the nation’s passenger rail provider, Amtrak takes a system-wide lens to these investments to ensure efficiencies in operations, procurement, and supporting services,” the budget document said.

It is likewise noteworthy that the budget request in describing the new corridors program does not say per se that these corridors are intended to replace the long-distance trains.

At the same time, the budget request does not specifically say, as does the Trump administration FY2021 budget request does, that long-distance trains should be phased out in favor of new corridor services.

It does say that the funding being requested for new corridors is intended to supplement the funding requests for the Northeast Corridor and national network in FY2021.

That appears to be a way of saying that Amtrak will put off for at least another fiscal year the matter of carving up the long-distance routes into a series of corridor services.

The Amtrak budget request seeks to frame the new corridors program as an expansion of the Amtrak network and uses such language as the need to provide efficient and effective service.

It also repeats the boilerplate language that Amtrak President Richard Anderson has been espousing about the need to keep up with a changing and evolving transformation of population, demographic and travel needs.

Amtrak’s budget request can be found at https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/corporate/reports/Amtrak-General-Legislative-Annual-Report-FY2021-Grant-Request.pdf

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