Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Infrastructure Bill Would Make Amtrak Policy Changes

August 4, 2021

The text of the proposed nearly $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill was revealed this week in the U.S. Senate.

As reported earlier by various sources, the bill would provide $66 billion to Amtrak with most of that money being used to address maintenance backlogs and upgrade the Northeast Corridor.

However, the text also showed the legislation would make changes to Amtrak’s legal mission.

Those include making the goal of Amtrak to “meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States” rather than achieving “a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money.”

There is also language that places Amtrak service to rural areas as well as urban areas.

The funding for Amtrak in the bill would allocate $1.5 billion per year for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants program with a 50 percent match required.

Also included in the bill is $15 million for the U.S. Department of Transportation to analyze the restoration of long-distance trains that have been terminated by Amtrak; money to fund the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program ($1 billion per year), and the Restoration and Enhancement Program ($50 million per year); and $500 million per year for rail grade crossing separation projects.

The Amtrak funding is part of an overall $102 billion package for commuter rail and other high-performance rail services.

Public transit would receive $107 billion for public transit. Some of that funding can be used for multimodal investments that include transit and passenger rail.

The legislation also contains the Senate’s version of a new surface transportation reauthorization  bill that authorizes funding for railroads, water infrastructure, public transit, highway, bridges and roads.

Transformational? Probably Not

August 4, 2021

Although the bipartisan infrastructure bill now being debated by the Senate contains an infusion of new funding for rail passenger service, it is not necessarily the “transformational” development that rail passenger advocates have long sought.

Writing last week on the website of the Rail Passengers Association, Jim Mathews, the president of the group formerly known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said the bill provides meaningful and sustained increases in passenger rail funding, yet doesn’t have nearly enough funding to provide for a wide-ranging expansion of Amtrak routes and services.

But 24 hours later, RPA’s Sean Jeans-Gail, RPA’s vice president of policy and government affairs, wrote a post saying that the views expressed in Mathews’ earlier post had been a little too pessimistic and that the infrastructure plan could be transformational.

When RPA and other rail passenger advocates use the word “transformational” they are talking about a vision in which the nation’s intercity rail passenger network is much greater than it is now. By that they mean doubled, tripled and maybe quadrupled.

It is difficult to say because advocates tend to speak in general terms about Amtrak expansion.

Amtrak has laid out its own transformational vision in its Amtrak Connect US plan that calls for a network of 39 new corridor services by 2035.

Individual rail passenger advocates, though, tend to have their own visions and dreams, some of which would involve several new long-distance routes plus an expansion of the number of trains on existing long-distance routes. Amtrak is not calling for additional long-distance routes.

Whatever your vision for expanding intercity rail passenger service might be, it won’t happen without a massive infusion of public money.

The infrastructure plan now before the Senate would allocate $66 million for passenger rail.

But most of that money would be used on Amtrak’s existing network, leaving just $32 billion for additional passenger rail funding.

 “While this bill would count as the biggest federal investment in passenger rail since Amtrak’s creation, it is far below what was originally envisioned by the White House,” Mathews wrote.

He was referring to the $74 billion originally proposed by President Joseph Biden for new passenger rail projects in his American Jobs Act proposal.

What RPA and other passenger advocates really want is the $110 billion in the House-approved INVEST Act that would be spent on passenger rail.

The Senate infrastructure bill combines figures from what had been two separate pieces of legislation, one of which is the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021.

That bill, which contained $34.2 billion for passenger rail, was approved earlier by the Senate Commerce Committee.

If you combine what is available for passenger rail in the infrastructure bill with the Transportation Investment Act figures, Jeans-Gail wrote, you get a passenger rail investment of $102 billion over the next five years, which he called a “transformational” figure.

Maybe, but read the fine print. The only funding that is guaranteed by the infrastructure bill is the $66 billion of the original bi-partisan infrastructure plan.

The rest of the funding is subject to approval through the congressional appropriations process.

“There’s no assurance that the additional $36 billion in investment will ever fully materialize,” Jeans-Gail wrote. “This creates uncertainty in how the guaranteed funds would be used, hindering the ability of states and Amtrak to effectively execute multi-year capitalization plans.”

So what will that $66 billion be used for? Primarily to fund capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor and the national network, and buy new equipment for the national network.

Some of the funding is devoted toward establishing new services, although Mathews suggested it might only be enough for one or two routes.

The RPA posts have suggested that money could be used to restore discontinued routes, extend existing service and add additional frequencies on existing routes.

In his post, Mathews said there remains hope that the House will approve a more generous rail funding section of the infrastructure plan. Any differences would need to be worked out between the House and Senate.

He conceded that a higher level of rail funding could draw the opposition of those Republicans who have thus far supported the bi-partisan Senate infrastructure bill.

It seems unlikely the Senate will lie down and give in to everything that the House wants. There will be a give and take in reconciling the differing visions of each chamber.

Then again the infrastructure bill hasn’t passed the Senate yet, hasn’t been considered by the House and hasn’t been signed by the president. We are talking about proposals at this point not finished products.

The numbers may change in time, but the overall thrust of what the infrastructure bill will and won’t do is unlikely to change all that much.

That may result in something transformational or it might simply lead to incremental additions to the nation’s intercity rail passenger network with new equipment and improved infrastructure being used by the existing services.

If that turns out to be the case it would be a positive for America’s intercity rail passenger network. It just won’t lead to the fulfillment of most of the desires and dreams of many rail passenger advocates.

House Budget Bill Boosts Transportation Spending

July 19, 2021

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a spending bill for fiscal year 2022 that would boost spending on transportation programs over FY2021 levels.

The bill, known as the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies legislation provides an increase of $1.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

USDOT is allocated $105.7 billion in budgetary resources, a 22 percent increase above the FY2021 enacted level ($86.7 billion) and President Joseph Biden’s FY2022 budget request of $87 billion.

Among the spending levels authorized for transportation programs are:

• $1.2 billion for National Infrastructure Investments, a 20 percent increase from FY 2021. It includes $20 million for Transportation Planning Grants to assist areas of persistent poverty, a 100 percent increase over FY 2021. An additional $100 million is included for a new grant program to “spur thriving communities nationwide.”

•$4.1 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, up 46 percent from FY 2021. This includes $625 million for the new Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) grant program “to support projects that improve, expand or establish passenger rail service”; $500 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program, a 33 percent increase from FY 2021; $2.7 billion for Amtrak, a 35 percent boost over FY 2021, which includes $1.2 billion for Northeast Corridor Grants and $1.5 billion for National Network Grants.

• $15.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including $12.2 billion for Transit Formula Grants to expand bus fleets and increase the transit state of good repair; $2.5 billion for Capital Investment Grants to construct more than 23 new transit routes nationwide, a 22 percent increase above the FY 2021 enacted level and equal to the president’s budget request; and $580 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants to purchase more than 300 zero-emission buses and 400 diesel buses, and to support “transformative research for transit systems,” which is a 12 percent increase above FY 2021.

Senate Committee OKs Transportation Bill

June 27, 2021

A five-year $78 billion surface transportation authorization bill has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Surface Transportation Investment Act authorizes $25 billion for Amtrak and $28 billion for transportation construction grants.

It also includes $2 billion a year for a new program for major projects of national significance; $1.5 billion a year for Rebuilding America Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity); $1.2 billion for freight-focused Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grants; and $7.5 billion for rail-related safety projects and increases funding for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants.

The bill was approved by the committee on a 25-3 vote.

The committee turned aside a proposal by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) that the legislation propose a goal that Amtrak become financially self-sustaining.

In response, Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) said that although improved Amtrak service could lead to “a lot of economic growth and opportunity . . . without subsidies, it’s done.”

Senate Committee Introduces Surface Transportation Authorization Bill

June 16, 2021

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week released details about a five-year surface transportation bill authorizing $78 billion for rail, freight, safety and research programs.

The legislation, which has bi-partisan support, is designed to accompany the $303.5 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.

The Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 was introduced on the same day that a House Committee was marking up its own surface transportation authorization bill, the $547 billion INVEST in America Act.

Both House and Senate proposals are designed to replace the current Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which expires on Sept. 30.

The FAST Act originally expired in 2020 but was extended by Congress for a year.

If Congress fails to approve a new surface transportation authorization bill by Sept. 30, it will face a situation of having to approve another extension or passing one or more continuing resolution extending the current law.

Some congressional observers believe that based on how other surface transportation bills have fared it will be a year or longer before a new bill is enacted.

Among the provisions of the Senate’s most recently introduced bill is authorization of $36 billion for rail programs.

Passenger rail would receive $25 billion of that for intercity passenger rail service.

The committee said in a statement this level of funding “protects Amtrak’s critically important long-distance routes,” while also addressing the Northeast Corridor project capital improvements backlog and encouraging expansion of passenger rail corridors with state support.

Rail funding also includes more than $7.5 billion for rail safety and improvement projects, such as a new $500 million per year grant program to eliminate grade crossings as well as increased funding for the Consolidated Rail and Infrastructure Safety Improvement grant program.

The bill authorizes $28 billion for multi-modal freight investments, including an average of $1.2 billion a year for the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight grant program.

Other authorizations include $1.5 billion for U.S. DOT’s BUILD/RAISE grant program and $2 billion for the creation of a new program to fund projects of “national significance.”

Safety programs would be authorized $13 billion, including $6 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s highway safety programs; $4.6 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s commercial vehicle programs; and $500 million to improve first responder planning and training for hazardous material incidents.

DOT would be authorized $1 billion for new and existing research and development programs.

The legislation also reauthorizes and makes reforms to USDOT agencies such as the Office of the Secretary; Federal Railroad Administration ; FMCSA; NHTSA; and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Hazardous Materials Programs.

Biden Budget Proposal Would Boost Amtrak Spending 35%

May 30, 2021

Amtrak would get a 35 percent boost, most of it for capital projects, if Congress adopts the Biden administration budget.

The administration has proposed $2.7 billion for Amtrak with a major share of that funding set to be used for track and station improvements, fleet refreshment, and systemwide maintenance. Another $625 million would create a new grant program, Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion, to develop and expand rail corridors across the nation.

The U.S Department of Transportation would receive $88 billion in total.

This includes $13.5 billion for transit projects of which $2.5 billion is for Capital Investment Grants, a $459 million increase, to accelerate projects already in process and support new projects seeking approval.

Another $550 million would go toward Transit Infrastructure Grants of which $250 million is for the Zero Emission Bus Program.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program would receive $1 billion in funding.

Amtrak Seeks $75B for New Service

May 28, 2021

Amtrak elaborated this week on its “Connect US” plan, which calls for a 15-year $75 billion federal investment to add 39 new routes and enhance service on 25 other routes.

Calling the plan “Corridor Vision,” Amtrak said it would lead to the carrier providing intercity rail passenger service in 47 of the 48 contiguous states and new stations in more than half of those states.

If implemented, the network expansion would generate $8 billion in annual economic benefits by 2035 and an additional $195 billion in economic activity resulting from capital projects during the same period.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak CEO William Flynn outlined details of the plan, many of which have already been reported.

This includes Amtrak paying all initial costs for new or improved service but with states eventually assuming responsibility for those costs.

Amtrak proposed to pay upfront the estimated cost for stations, railcars, locomotives, and infrastructure.

Amtrak also is seeking a dedicated funding source, the Passenger Rail Trust Fund, and called for passage of the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, which would enhance Amtrak’s ability to enforce its right of operating preference over freight trains.

In an effort to prevent host railroads from stalling the launch of new routes, Amtrak wants Congress to clarify existing law that provides Amtrak has access to host railroads.

“Too often host railroads resist and stall any efforts to expand service,” Flynn wrote.

In a statement issued with a news release, Flynn said new and improved rail service has the ability to change how Americans move while providing cleaner air, reducing highway congestion and providing a more connected country.

Details of the Connect US plan are contained in a report Amtrak issued titled  Amtrak’s Vision for Improving Transportation Across America.

Among the cities that would receive new or improved service are Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, and Wichita.

Amtrak said the added service could increase its ridership by 20 million riders annually.

Amtrak said the plan is not a final proposal and does not lay out a specific order or priority ranking for route development.

It said many factors, including available funding levels, post-pandemic travel demand, state interest, host railroad conditions, and equipment availability, will play a role in determining final implementation plans for the Connect US program.

If a corridor is not mentioned in the plan, Amtrak said that doesn’t mean it opposes development of that service.

The passenger carrier cautioned that just because a corridor is shown in its plan doesn’t mean it is certain to be implemented.

“The corridors proposed here are intended to be additive to Amtrak’s pre-COVID-19 route network,” Amtrak said.

Amtrak expects to implement its corridor services over a 15-year period.

The Amtrak report also sought to downplay the idea that these will be high-speed routes.

“While high speed rail service may be right for certain corridors, current state-supported Amtrak services such as the Pacific Surfliner and the Hiawatha show that intercity passenger rail can be successful with conventional operating speeds,” Amtrak said.

“As corridors which begin at conventional speeds build ridership and demand, they can be considered for future conversion to high speed service.”

Funding for Connect US would come from a variety of sources, including direct federal funding to Amtrak for corridor development and operation, and discretionary grants available to states, Amtrak and others for corridor development, the report said.

 “This vision does not propose to replace existing grant programs. Rather, it would augment them with dedicated and reliable funding from an intercity passenger rail trust fund … or other source needed to execute on a long-term vision.”

Tags: Amtrak, Amtrak Connect US, Amtrak funding, Amtrak funding request, Congress, William Flynn

Amtrak Sends Congress its Wish List

April 30, 2021

Amtrak sent Congress its wish list this week for fiscal year 2022 funding and it is quite ambitious, seeking to nearly double what Amtrak received before 2020.

The requests include funding for new corridor services, hints at expanding the frequency of operation of the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, and seeks “bold” funding for Northeast Corridor and other capital projects.

The intercity passengers carrier wants a FY2022 grant of $3.88 billion for base needs and funding to offset the pandemic’s impacts on Amtrak and its state and commuter partners.

Also requested was $1.55 billion for Northeast Corridor infrastructure projects and development of new corridor routes across the nation.

In a statement, Amtrak CEO William Flynn noted that Amtrak will soon place into service new Acela equipment and locomotives for long distance trains.

Flynn said that granting Amtrak the funding it seeks would enable it to “play a central role” in helping the nation’s economy recover from the pandemic.

The funding requests are contained in a 77-page General and Legislative Annual Report and Fiscal Year 2022 Grant Request.

As reported earlier, Amtrak proposes to pick up all of the capital and operating costs for the first two years of operation of any new multi-frequency corridor.

But state and local governments would be expected to pay at least 10 percent of costs in the third year, 20 percent in the fourth, and 50 percent in the fifth.

In the sixth year state and local governments would be responsible for all costs as allocated uniformly under Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

However, Amtrak believes that the corridor operations will earn enough revenue after five years to make continued operation attractive.

The funding for new corridor services could also be used to support increases in service frequency for less-than-daily long distance routes and certain specific investments in corridor service at no long-term cost to Amtrak’s state partners.

The latter could include service to Canada and Mexico. All of Amtrak’s service to Canada is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The request mentions that Amtrak’s funding request also reflects funding needed to buy replacement equipment for Amtrak’s Superliner and Amfleet II fleet.

Amtrak earlier this month named Siemens to build 83 transets to replace Amfleet equipment but that is not thought to include Amfleet II cars.

Elsewhere on Amtrak’s wish list is federal legislation to give it a right to sue its host railroads for failure to provide dispatching preference for passenger trains and give the Surface Transportation Board authority to determine whether additional trains on a given route “would unreasonably impair freight transportation.”

The passenger carrier also reprised an idea from the 1980s that was never adopted of establishing an Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund.

If Amtrak gets its way, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Program loans would be easier to obtain and states would be allowed to spend a portion of their Highway Trust Fund money on passenger rail.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

Biden Administration Releases Rail Funding Details

April 12, 2021

The Biden administration has released further information about how money it has proposed to spend on transportation infrastructure will be allocated in his American Jobs Plan.

The plan has earmarked $571 billion in transportation funding including $80 billion for intercity rail passenger service.

The Rail Passengers Association said that funding would be broken down to $39 billion to modernize the Northeast Corridor; $16 billion for Amtrak’s national network; $20 billion for intercity passenger grants; and $5 billion for freight rail and safety grants.

Mass transit would receive $85 billion proposal to be divided by $55 billion for returning existing public transportation systems to a state of good repair; $25 billion to expand transit systems; and $5 billion dedicated to helping implement the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

RPA said that aside from the Northeast Corridor funding, it is not clear how the other funding for passenger rail would be used.

However, the passenger advocacy group said that taking into account White House statements on the matter none of the funding is expected to be used for existing operating costs.

It would instead be used to replace existing rail cars, upgrade existing corridors with additional trains operating at higher speeds, and launching new corridors to cities without service.

RPA said the recently released Amtrak 2035 vision map is not part of the Biden administration plan but does give an indication of what new routes might be developed.

The Biden administration also indicated it will seek $25.6 billion in discretionary transportation funding during the fiscal year 2022 federal budget. That would be a 3.2 percent increase compared with FY 2021.

Amtrak would receive $2.7 billion, a 35 percent increase, while $625 million would be set aside for a new intercity passenger rail grant program.