Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

FY2018 Budget Gives Amtrak Funding a Boost

March 26, 2018

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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Amtrak Seeking $1.7B in FY 2019

February 26, 2018

Amtrak is seeking $1.7 billion in federal funding for fiscal year 2019, which is considerably more than the Trump Administration has proposed that it receive.

The passenger carrier’s budget request is similar to what Congress authorized for it in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The funding request includes a long list of proposed capital improvement needs, including $6.272 billion for the proposed new Hudson River tunnels, and seeks changes to federal law that the carrier said will improve its cost recovery and operations.

The administration has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by almost two-thirds, from $1.5 billion to $538 million.

Amtrak usually does not receive all of what it requests from Congress. Due to the inability of lawmakers to approve an appropriations bill, Amtrak’s current funding is based on its fiscal year 2017 allocation because FY 2018 spending has been handled in a series of continuing resolutions. The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The Fiscal Year 2019 General and Legislative Annual Report to Congress projects that Amtrak’s funding needs will increase to $2.1 billion by fiscal 2023.

Northeast Corridor funding will rise from $543 million in FY 2018 to $966 million in 2023. The National Network, which includes long-distance and state-supported corridor trains, is expected to see its funding needs drop from $1.157 million to $1.134 million.

Trump Budget Also Targets Air Service, Fees

February 15, 2018

Amtrak is not the only form of transportation with a target on its back in the Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019.

In the same way that the budget seeks to slash funding for Amtrak, particularly its long-distance trains, the administration wants to cut funding for essential air service to small airports.

The budget proposed cutting expenditures for the EAS program from $150 million to $93 million.

The budget would also raise fees related to transportation security, and customs and immigration fees paid by airline and cruise passengers. The federal air traffic control system would be privatized.

Amtrak funding would fall from $1.5 billion to $738 million. The budget proposal said Amtrak’s long-distance trains suffer from poor on-time performance and carry just 4.7 million of Amtrak’s nearly 32 million annual passengers. It also said the long-distance trains lose more than $500 million annually.

These proposals are not new. Most of them were in the FY 2018 budget, but Congress did not heed them.

The Trump administration budget proposal calls for appropriating $15.6 billion for the Department of Transportation, a cut of 19 percent from what Congress gave it in FY 2017.

The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, dated October 2016, shows that the federal government funded commercial airline flights to 120 communities in the continental U.S and Hawaii.

The program, which began in 1978, also makes 237 Alaskan communities eligible for funding.

The rational for the EAS program was to enable remote towns to remain in the national air traffic network following airline deregulation, which resulted in scores of airports losing commercial service.

“However, today many EAS flights are not full and have high per-passenger subsidy costs. Several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports,” the budget proposal says.

The recommendations were part of the $4.4 trillion budget proposal the administration sent to Congress on Monday.

Among the travel security-related fees that the administration wants to increase are the 9/11-passenger security fee that is assessed on airfare from the current $5.60 per one-way trip to $6.60 in 2019 and then to $8.25 beginning in 2020.

Although the 9/11 fee is supposed to fund Transportation Security Administration airport operations, Congress has sent about a third of it to items unrelated to security.

The administration said raising the fee would result in the traveling public paying for the full cost of aviation security.

The custom inspection fee would increase from $5.65 to $7.75. This fee is assessed on air and cruise ticket prices for people arriving in the United States.

The immigration fee, which is also assessed on tickets held by air and cruise passengers entering the U.S., would go from $7 to $9.

The proposal includes ending an exemption on that fee for passengers arriving via sea from Canada and Mexico.

The budget proposal said that the customs fee and immigration fee were last increased in 2007 and 2001, respectively.

Air traffic control is now overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, but the Trump administration wants to shift it to an independent private organization.

Doing this, the administration believes, would speed implementation of a satellite-based NextGen system while removing air traffic control from contentious appropriation debates in Congress.

Critics have said doing this would reduce public accountability and harm the interests of private aviation.

An ATC privatization bill has twice made it out of the House Transportation Committee, but has failed to pass either the full House or the Senate due to bi-partisan opposition.

Trump Wants to Cut Amtrak Funding in Half

February 14, 2018

Here we go again. The proposed fiscal year 2019 federal budget released this week by the Trump administration proposes cutting in half the federal funding for Amtrak.

As the administration did a year ago, it is taking aim at long-distance trains, calling for funding of those to be slashed and for states served by the trains to pick up that funding.

But even the Northeast Corridor would face federal funding cuts, seeing its funding reduced from $328 million to $200 million.

Total Amtrak funding would be $538 million. Congress appropriated $1.2 million for Amtrak in the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.

The Trump administration proposed a similar budget cut for Amtrak last year, but Congress ignored it.

Amtrak issued a statement saying the proposed cuts would negatively affect the more than 31 million people who ride Amtrak.

“As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with the administration, Congress, state partners and other stakeholders to consider these proposals and the impacts they could have on this important part of the nation’s transportation system,” the passenger carrier said.

Amtrak said it remains focused on running efficiently, saying that it covered 94.7 percent of its total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in fiscal year 2017, but it must rely on some level of federal funding.

In a 160-page budget narrative submitted to Congress, the White House Office of Management & Budget said that having states share the burden of funding Amtrak would make “states more equal partners with the federal government, and would strengthen the responsiveness of Amtrak to the communities they serve.”

The narrative contends that along with cuts to Amtrak funding the administration “proposes reforms to Amtrak to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of long-distance routes.”

“State contributions to long distance routes is only one tool in the menu of options,” the administration said it will be exploring.

Shutdown to Have Minimal Effect on Railroads

January 22, 2018

The federal government shutdown that began on Saturday is not expected to have much effect on railroad operations.

Federal safety and oversight oriented agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Surface Transportation Board have designated “excepted” employees to perform accident investigations and equipment inspections related to the safety of human life and to issue emergency service orders.

However, those employees will not receive paychecks or be reimbursed for their travel expenses while the shutdown continues.

During past shutdowns, Congress agreed to grant back pay and travel reimbursements after the shutdown ended.

The heads of the agencies are presidential appointees and thus exempt from being furloughed.

Under federal law, presidential appointees have an absolute entitlement to their salaries. If needed, they can use the federal Court of Claims to get paid.

The FRA said that 487 of its 929 employees, including some in the legal department, are excepted from being furloughed due to their responsibilities for safety inspections, investigations, writing emergency orders and representing the agency in court.

Such day-to-day operations as management of federal grants and environmental reviews will not be performed during the shutdown.

Most STB operations will be on hold during the shutdown, but it provides a telephone number to be called “if you believe you have an emergency that requires immediate Board action” such as an emergency service orders.

Amtrak will continue its regular operations during the shutdown. The passenger carrier’s federal funding comes in large block grants that are sufficient to enable it to continue operating.ro

House Approves $1.4B for Amtrak

September 20, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated money to Amtrak, but not to TIGER grant funding.

The House last week approved a $2.1-trillion budget federal budget for fiscal year 2018.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which can accept it as is or pass its own budget with the differences being worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.

Amtrak funding in the bill is $1.4 billion, of which $1.1 billion is for the national network and $328 million for Northeast Corridor grants.

Lawmakers also approved $500 million for federal-state partnership for state of good repair grants.

Another $25 million was earmarked for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants, which is down from $68 million in 2017.

The Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant program would receive $1.75 billion, including $1 billion for funding grant agreement projects, and $145 million for core capacity projects. FTA’s “Small Starts” program would receive $182 million.

Effort to Halt Amtrak Funding Rejected

September 7, 2017

A bid to end Amtrak funding was rejected by the House on Wednesday.

Alabama Republican Mo Brooks offered an amendment to a spending bill that would have ended $1.1 billion in federal funding of the national passenger carrier in fiscal year 2018.

The amendment failed on a 128-293 bi-partisan vote. Brooks had sought to portray Amtrak funding as “unnecessary.”

“[W]hat policy justification is there for forcing Americans who don’t use Amtrak to subsidize the travel of Americans who do use Amtrak? I know of none,” he said during the debate.

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), shot back that the end Amtrak funding amendment would be “counterproductive,” because eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidies would result in higher costs. “This bill is not just arbitrary decisions,” he said. “You see, we held hearings. And we carefully scrubbed each account to make sure that the reductions that we made were responsible and that were actually going to result in reductions. This is not the right way to do it. It is not prudent to eliminate an entire transportation option, by the way.”

Brooks attempted to argue that Amtrak passengers do not but should be forced to pay the full costs of operating Amtrak trains. But that argument failed to gain traction.

The House is expected to approve a three-month funding bill for FY 2018 this week and seek to adopt a long-term budget plan by the end of the year.

Failure to approve the budget bill could result in a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Political observers expect Amtrak’s long-distance trains to survive the budget process, but how much money the carrier will receive still must be worked out.

The House has proposed spending $1.1 billion for the national network while the Senate favores  $1.24 billion. Amtrak is likely to receive an amount somewhere between the two.

Amtrak is funded through the Department of Transportation budget, which has been rolled into the omnibus spending bill that the House is considering this week

The Senate has not approved any appropriations bills, but is expected to use the House bill as a basis for negotiating in a conference committee.

The House has also approved $500 million for a federal-state partnership to bring passenger rail infrastructure into a state of good repair. Amtrak could apply for grants under that program.

Senate Committee OKs Funding for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

July 29, 2017

A Senate committee voted this week to provide $1.6 billion in funding for Amtrak and to provide funding for some grant programs that the Trump administration wanted to cut.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development said that the funding would assure that Amtrak’s long-distance trains remain in operation during fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak funding was part of a $1.974 billion package for the Federal Railroad Administration and also included $550 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

That contrasts with action by a House committee to end TIGER funding. The Trump administration also sought to end the TIGER program.

In other action, the Senate subcommittee agreed to provide $12 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, marking a $285 million decrease from FY2017 enacted levels.

The bill provides $9.7 billion for transit formula grants consistent with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and slots $2.1 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (also known as New Starts).

That money would fully fund all current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us, and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the subcommittee.

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 17, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

Moorman Makes Pitch for Saving Long-Distance Train Funding

June 13, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman recently told Congress that eliminating funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget would cost more money than it would save.

Moorman

In a letter that accompanied Amtrak’s budget Moorman said ending the funding would cost $423 million more than keeping it.

“The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system,” Moorman wrote. “Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less.”

The letter sought to highlight Amtrak’s successes last year.

“Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on Sep. 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion,” Moorman said. “The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

“The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”

As Amtrak’s ongoing needs, Moorman said Amtrak needs funding to replace movable bridges that are more than 100 years old and money to pay for a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work in the Northeast Corridor estimated to cost $38 billion to complete.

Moorman said the Superliner equipment used by Amtrak’s long-distance trains averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the age of the fleet is nearly 40 years.